Vietnamese Beef Pho and Asian Food at Home
Now that the chilly winds have started to blow I’m thinking more and more about making hot and hearty soup. Soup, for me, is the original comfort food. Put a steaming bowl and a spoon in front of me, and suddenly the world is a brighter place. You, of course, have your own comfort food. You may get that warm homey feeling when you dig into a creamy mac and cheese or aromatic lamb stew, a deep-dish apple pie or luscious tiramisu. For me, it’s soup.
So when my daughter introduced me to Vietnamese beef pho it was a natural. Both the combination of flavours and the method of presentation of this Asian gem astonished me. They got me thinking in ways I hadn’t ever before. It was like learning a new language. Luckily, learning food languages is a lot easier than learning spoken ones. Soon I could name and imagine combinations of the new flavours in Vietnamese beef pho at will. Lemongrass, galangal, star anise, sriracha sauce, and Vietnamese mint were all in my new vocabulary.
There was only one problem. My husband is sensitive to MSG (monosodium glutamate). It seems, every single bowl of Vietnamese beef pho has MSG in the stock.
MSG is a form of salt related to the naturally occuring protein called glutamate. For those sensitive to it, it can cause symptoms that range from a feeling of slight pressure on the temples to pain, nausea and vomiting. As with most any food, some people just cannot eat it. So, I’d get my fix of Vietnamese beef pho only occasionally, when out with other friends.
Marnie Henricksson, author of Everyday Asian, changed all that. She’s an American who lived in Tokyo and Southeast Asia for several years and learned a lot about Asian flavours and cooking. She has prepared and served every recipe in the book. Each one is straightforward to make, with ingredients you can find in North American shops. Her recipe for making Vietnamese beef pho has authentic, delicious flavour without the use of MSG.
Vietnamese Beef Pho
1 large yellow onion, unpeeled
3 inch/8cm piece of ginger root
3 lb/1.4kg beef bones
3 whole star anise
2 inch/5cm cinnamon stick
1 lb/450g stewing beef, brisket, or oxtails
Roast the whole onion and the ginger right on the oven rack in a 350°F oven for 30 minutes.
Put 3½ quarts/3.25l of water, the bones, spices, onion, ginger and stewing meat in a large soup pot and bring to a boil. Skim off any scum, lower the heat, and let cook at a medium simmer until reduced by one third, about 3 hours.
Strain the stock, reserving the stew meat.
The stock may be made ahead and kept refrigerated. Remove the fat before reheating.
1/3 cup/80ml Chinese black vinegar, or balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp/15ml hot chili pepper sauce
¼ tsp/1.25ml freshly ground black pepper
¾ lb/ 340g flank steak
10 oz/285g rice noodles
2 cups/500ml mixed fresh cilantro, mint and Thai basil leaves
1 cup/250ml fresh bean sprouts
2 jalapeno chiles, thinly sliced into rings
1 lime, sliced into wedges
Put the rice noodles in a bowl of cool water for a minimum of 30 minutes. Bring a large pot of water to boil for the noodles.
Skim the fat from the soup stock and add the fish sauce, black vinegar, chilli sauce and pepper. Bring the stock back to a simmer in a medium saucepan.
Cut the reserved stew meat into small cubes and slice the steak against the grain as thinly as possible.
Drain the soaked noodles; boil for 2 minutes, drain, rinse with cool water, and drain well.
Turn the heat up to high under the stock and bring to a rolling boil.
Divide the noodles, cubed beef, and sliced raw steak among four bowls. Pour the boiling stock into each bowl and top with a handful of herbs, beans sprouts, chiles and a lime wedge.
Serve at once with sriracha chili sauce on the side for those who like more heat.
If you want to serve from a large tureen at the table, toss the raw steak into the boiling broth for 30 seconds before pouring over the noodles and stew meat in the tureen. (The broth will not be hot enough to cook the steak, otherwise.)
Ms Henricksson says, “The soup (Vietnamese beef pho) is wonderful with a first course of fresh spring rolls.” and includes a recipe for these in the book.
Tip Put the flank steak into the freezer to partially freeze before slicing. You’ll be able to slice it very thin. Then lay the slices out on the cutting board or a platter to thaw completely.
Have you encountered food that has surprised you in some way? Have you found a recipe for something you thought couldn’t be made at home in North America? Please leave a comment; I’d love to hear about your food adventures.