Friday, February 23, 2007

Pho is a Friend

I am extremely fortunate that I have been experiencing some rather odd food aversions. At the moment, I cannot stand the taste of chocolate, ice cream and most confections; in fact most things sweet. In addition, I now find food rich in saturated fats very difficult to digest so I have been avoiding them too.

I crave strong but clean flavours so Vietnamese cuisine hits the spot perfectly. Besides, I have chosen to boost my iron intake through food rather than pre-natal vitamins which caused some serious digestive track frustrations (and let's just leave it at that). For these reasons, I turned to Vietnamese beef noodle soup frequently during my stay in Sydney for comfort, iron boost and to curb nausea induced weight loss. Now that I'm back in BA, I'll have to resort to DIY.

Pho or noodle soup is the national dish of Vietnam. The most popular being beef noodles soup – paper-thin slices of raw beef cooked in the residual heat of a bowl of piping hot and fragrant beef consommé with rice noodles.

The beef consommé is spiced with Vietnamese fish sauce (nouc mam), pepper, sugar, ginger, anise, basil, coriander and mint. The noodle soup is served with condiments such as bean sprouts, fresh mint leaves and lime wedges.

Pho is eaten anytime of the day in Vietnam; as breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack. It is low in fat and a perfect combination of flavours, protein and carbohydrate.

There are as many Pho recipes as there are bicycles in Ho Chi Minh City so I have provided here a basic blueprint so feel free to adjust to your taste.

250g flat rice noodles (medium width)
7 cups of beef stock
2 tsp fish sauce
a pinch of sugar
a pinch of black pepper
500g tender beef, sliced paper-thin (half-frozen beef is easier to slice)
1/2 cup bean sprouts
1 small bunch of coriander, chopped
a handful of basil leaves*
a small handful of mint leaves*
1 sprig of spring onion, chopped

Marinate the meat in a combination of fish sauce, black pepper and sugar.

Use fresh rice noodles when possible but if the rice noodles are the dried ones, soak them in cold water for 30 minutes or until softened. Boil water in a large pot and add the rice noodles. Bring to boil again; then drain.

Rinse and separate rice noodles, using cold water. Set aside. Do not overcook the noodles or they will break into pieces.

Divide cooked noodles in a two large soup bowls. Place raw beef slices on the noodles. Add coriander, basil, mint and spring onion.

Bring the beef consommé to a boil then pour the boiling soup on top of the slices of beef. It is now ready to be served. If you prefer your beef well cooked, leave the beef in the hot broth before serving.

Serve noodles with bean sprouts, chilies, basil, mint, coriander, and lime wedges on the side.

* Try to find Vietnamese or Thai basil and mint for this recipe as they are much more intense in taste and not as sweet.

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