As we approach the final week of our Meditate To Thanksgiving Challenge, I’m inspired to bring some Asian elements into my cooking this week. After all, meditation itself is rooted in the Far East through Buddhist teachings and Hindu culture across Asia.
What is the most warm and light Asian dish that heightens all the senses? In my mind, there is nothing like Vietnamese Pho. Right from the sound of the simmering broth, it exhilarates your senses with its aroma of gentle spices, your taste buds are rejuvenated with the first sip of broth that is nothing like the combination of any other flavors you have ever tasted, steaming sips make you feel warm all over, and it’s visually light and fresh.
Authentic Pho is intensely time consuming, but when made right it is amazingly flavorful. The Pho broth is simmered for at least 6 hours and infused with warm spices that you may normally see during holiday cooking in the United States. This Asian soup is extremely soothing and wonderful to warm you up on a winter evening.
2 onions, halved
2 (3-inch) pieces ginger, halved lengthwise
5-6 pounds of good beef bones, preferably leg and knuckle
2 pounds of beef brisket, cut into 2 large pieces
6 quarts of water
1 package of Pho Spices
1 cinnamon stick,
5 whole star anise,
1 cardamom pod,
6 whole cloves
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1/4 cup fish sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
2 pounds rice noodles cooked and drained
Cooked beef from the broth (shredded or thinly sliced)
1/2 yellow onion, sliced paper-thin
3 scallions, cut into thin rings
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
10 sprigs Asian basil
1 dozen fresh mint leaves
2 limes, cut into wedges
2-3 chili peppers, sliced
2 big handfuls of fresh bean sprouts
Sriracha hot sauce
Make the Broth
- Turn your broiler on high and move rack to the highest spot. Place ginger and onions on baking sheet. Brush just a bit of cooking oil on the cut side of each. Broil on high until ginger and onions begin to char. Turn over and continue to char. This should take a total of 10-15 minutes.
- In a large stockpot, bring 6 quarts water to a boil. Place the bones and beef chuck in a second pot and add water to cover. Bring to a boil and boil vigorously for 5 minutes. Using tongs, carefully transfer the bones and beef to the first pot of boiling water. Discard the water in which the meat cooked. (This cleans the bones and meat and reduces the impurities that can cloud the broth.) When the water returns to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer. Skim the surface often to remove any foam and fat. Add the charred ginger and onions, fish sauce and sugar. Simmer until the beef chuck is tender, about 40 minutes. Remove one piece and submerge in cool water for 10 minutes to prevent the meat from darkening and drying out. Drain, then cut into thin slices and set aside. Let the other piece of beef chuck continue to cook in the simmering broth.
- When the broth has been simmering for about 1 1/2 hours total, wrap the star anise and cloves in a spice bag (or piece of cheesecloth) and add to the broth. Let infuse until the broth is fragrant, about 30 minutes. Remove and discard both the spice bag and onions. Add the salt and continue to simmer, skimming as necessary, until you’re ready to assemble the dish. The broth needs to cook for at least 2 hours. (The broth will taste salty but will be balanced once the noodles and accompaniments are added.) Leave the remaining chuck and bones to simmer in the pot while you assemble the bowls.
Assemble Noodles and Meat
- To serve, place the cooked noodles in preheated bowls. Place a few slices of the beef chuck that you cooled and set aside on the noodles. Bring the broth to a rolling boil; ladle about 2 to 3 cups into each bowl. Garnish with yellow onions, scallions and cilantro.
- Serve immediately, offering garnish on the side with bean sprouts, mint, basil, chilies, and lime juice.