Pho is Vietnam’s famous noodle soup that has garnered a legion of devotees around the globe. Traditionally Pho is served first thing in the morning in Vietnam, but there are Pho stalls and shops that are open 24/7 across the country. Making Pho at home does require a lot of ingredients as well as time, so most Vietnamese frequent their local Pho shop for a quick meal on the go. This is a country on the move and in perpetual motion! The energy in the air is mind boggling at first, but then your realize there is an order in this symphony of chaos that envelopes you. Welcome to Vietnam!
Pho became popular during the French colonial period in the mid eighteen hundreds. The French colonists introduced beef into the Vietnamese diet as well as French cooking methods. Some speculate, myself included, that the French beef stew called pot- ou- feu was the likely source for the name Pho, pronounced “fuh”, which is very similar in sound to the French pot-ou-feu.
Fortunately, these days Vietnamese restaurants serving Pho can be found in almost any city in the world. Of course you could use a Knorr Oxo beef broth sachet for a quick Pho, but taking the time to make a traditional Pho at home affords you the luxury of a well tended slow cooked broth that reflects the refined essence of this soups mystique. Hand selecting the other fresh ingredients that are added to the piping hot broth insures that the alluring aromas of this sublime Vietnamese soup fills the air as it arrives at the table.
I have to say Vietnamese food is the perfect cuisine for life in the tropics. It’s light, refreshing, cooling in the steamy hot months, and warming in the bracing monsoon and brief cool winter months.
Getting to it then, developing a perfect broth is the first step in mastering an authentic Pho. Traditional broths are poultry, meat, or seafood based, but a vegetarian broth is doable with thoughful seasoning. The Pho Bo I have made here uses a beef based broth, but feel free to substitute a chicken, pork, or vegetable broth if you like. With a well developed broth you are free to create endless variations of this Vietnamese classic.
Vietnamese Pho Bo: serves 6 to 8
Nuoc Dung Bo ( beef broth) : makes 3 liters
I like to make the broth in advance. You can then cool it, cover, and refrigerate until needed, or freeze it for later use.
- 6 liters water
- 3 pounds beef bones
- 1 hand of ginger root, (unpeeled)
- 3 medium onions, unpeeled
- 6 whole star anise
- 4 four inch cinnamon sticks (Vietnamese if available)
- 5 bay leaves
- 6 whole cloves
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon white peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- a pinch or more of ground Saigon cinnamon (click here) to taste
Place the beef bones on a grill or under the broiler in your oven and brown the bones on all sides. Transfer the bones to a large stock pot and set aside.
Fire up a grill or place a rack directly over an open flame on the stove top. Flame roast the hand of ginger with skin on until it is well charred on all sides. Brush off excess charred bits, break the hand apart into fingers and add them to the stock pot.
Remove excess papery skin from the onions and cut them in half. Grill or flame roast the onions, unpeeled, until they are charred on all sides. Brush off excess charred bits and add them to the stock pot.
Fill the stock pot with the water and add the star anise, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, cloves, fennel seeds, peppercorns, sugar, and salt. Partially cover with a lid and bring the water to a boil. Uncover and stir. Then reduce the heat until the liquid is just gently simmering. Simmer for 2 ½ hours or until the liquid has reduced by half. Turn off the heat and set aside for an hour or so to cool. Then strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl. Discard all the solids and set the broth aside until you are ready to assemble the Pho, or transfer to containers with lids and refrigerate. As you will probably have more broth than you will need you may want to freeze the rest of the broth.
preheat the oven to 400 f/200 c
- 1 pound good quality beef round or filet
- flaked sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- fish sauce
Salt and pepper the beef on all sides. Gently rub the beef with fish sauce and place it in a preheated sizzling hot skillet. Quickly sear the beef on all sides and transfer to a roasting pan.
Put the beef in the oven and roast for no more than 12 minutes. You want the beef to be very rare in the center. Promptly remove ifrom the oven, cover lightly with foil, and cool to room temperature.
Just before you are ready to serve the Pho slice the beef as thinly as possible across the grain. Place the slices on a plate and set aside. The beef slices will be slipped into the Pho right before serving.
- 1 pound dried rice vermicelli or 1 pound thin Chinese egg noodles, fresh or dried.
If you are using rice noddles soak them in cold water for 20 minutes. When you are ready to assemble the soup place the soaked vermicelli in a wire mesh basket and lower them into the simmering broth for about 30 seconds and then transfer them to individual bowls, add broth and other ingredients, and serve.
If you are using Chinese egg noodles boil them in a generous pot of salted water as you would pasta, cooked al dente. Transfer to bowls and add broth and other accompanying ingredients, and serve.
The following ingredients should be available in Asian markets. Gather all of the following accompaniments together, lined up, and ready to add to the bowls of steaming hot Pho just before serving.
- mung bean sprouts
- coriander leaves
- ngo gai (saw tooth coriander, if available), thinly sliced
- Vietnamese/Thai sweet basil leaves
- green scallions, thinly sliced
- finely sliced fresh red chilies, to taste Best to remove the seeds before chopping.
- pickled mustard greens (du chua)
- Saigon cinnamon (if available)
- Lime wedges
- fish sauce (nuoc mam/nam pla
Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning, adding fish sauce and/ or salt, and a pinch or 2 of Saigon cinnamon to your liking. Then bring the broth to a full boil.
Place warmed noodles into individual bowls and ladle broth over the noodles to cover generously. Garnish with bean sprouts, sliced ngo gai (if using), basil leaves, sliced scallions, and some finely sliced red chilies.
Slip 4 or 5 slices of the thinly sliced beef into each bowl and serve.
Place bowls of sliced pickled mustard greens, grated ginger, finely sliced red chilies, and lime wedges on the table along with a platter or bowl laden with all the leafy garnishes on the table for adding to each individuals tastes. Be sure to have a dispenser of the ubiquitous nuoc mam/ nam pla (fish sauce) on the table as well.
This is an unexpected salad pairing that I recently discovered at Pulcinella da Stefano, or Stefano’s as we locals call it here in Chiang Mai. Contrary to what you may think, the earthy flavor of roasted beets paired with the sunny topical flavor of mango is a match made in…well, paradise. Beet root is locally grown here in Thailand and available year round as are many varieties of mango. Adding some locally grown figs, grapes, and dressing this salad with a smooth nutty cashew vinaigrette is the perfect flourish to bring this salad with a tropical twist to life.
The recipe that follows is my interpretation of Stefano’s salad but open to variations centered around local and seasonal produce available where you live. Mangoes can usually be found in specialty food stores as well as Asian markets.
Pulcinella da Stefano Italian restaurant is a long standing favorite for locals here in Chiang Mai as well as visitors from abroad. Conveniently located near Thaphae Gate and well worth a visit!
Beet Root Salad with Mango and a Cashew Vinaigrette
Prepare in advance:
Suggested selection of salad greens: romaine (cos), red oak leaf, butter head bib lettuce, radicchio , wild arugula (rocket), watercress, and Italian basil leaves as a garnish.
Beets: Roast and prepare the beets in advance.
Fruits: a fresh ripe mango, fresh figs, and seedless red grapes.
Ricotta cheese: (see homemade recipe here)
Cashews: lightly roasted.
Roasted Beets: Preheat oven to 400F/210C
Wash 4 medium size beets and pat dry, leaving the skin on. Place the beets along with a small sliced red onion in a baking pan. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Cover the baking pan with foil and seal tightly around the edges. Place in the oven and roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the beets are tender; testing by inserting a sharp knife easily into the center of the largest beet.
When tender remove the beets from the oven and set aside to cool, leaving the foil on until the beets are cool enough to handle. Then slip the skins off the beets and trim the stem and roots off the top and bottom. Cut the beets in half lengthwise and slice each half into thin slices. Place in a bowl along with the onions. Drizzle with olive oil, lightly season with salt and pepper, and set aside.
Assemble your salad greens selection in a bowl and toss. Cover and refrigerate.
Peel the mango, slice into bite size strips, cover and refrigerate.
Cashew Vinaigrette: makes 1 cup
- ½ cup lightly roasted cashews, divided
- 2 plump garlic cloves, dry roasted, peeled, and finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons good quality white wine vinegar
- ¾ teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- several twists of ground white pepper
- ¼ teaspoon red chile powder (optional)
- ½ teaspoon honey
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 to 3 tablespoons cold water
place 1/3 cup roasted cashews, garlic, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, pepper, chile powder (if using), and honey in a food processor or blender. Process until the mixture relatively smooth. Then, with the machine running add the olive oil in a slow steady stream and continue to process until the dressing is smooth, emulsified, and thick. To thin the dressing, add 1 tablespoon of cold water at a time and pulse until incorporated into the dressing. Repeat this process until the dressing is the consistency of heavy cream. Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to dress the salad greens.
Assembling the salad:
Lightly dress the salad greens and transfer them to individual shallow salad plates.
Place beet slices along with some onions on top or the greens.
Place sliced mango between the beets,
Tuck fresh basil leaves into the salad here and there.
Then add small clusters of ricotta next to the basil leaves.
Place the halved figs and grapes towards the edge of the salad.
Lightly drizzle just a bit more dressing over the salad.
Slice the remaining cashews in half lengthwise and skater over the salads.
Add a light twist of black pepper and serve.
This is an ideal light yet abundantly flavorful vegetarian dish to consider when putting together summer meals for family and friends. Traditionally Gobhi Panch Phoron is usually served with yellow rice, a dal, and some pickled vegetables, but this dish also pairs beautifully with a selection of summery western style vegetables, grains, and salads.
A trip to your local spice purveyor may be required, but otherwise the preparation for this dish is a breeze. In no time at all there is a heady aroma of exotic sizzling seeds wafting through the kitchen and brilliant turmeric hued cauliflower florets dancing away in a hot skillet. This is fun and lively cookery that delivers some light and spicy Indian taste bites that are sure to please!
Panch Phoron seed mixture is the flavor base for this dish, but the seeds are also rich in vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants. Cumin seeds have an earthy flavor and aid in digestion. Anise seeds are aromatic with a slight sweetness. Mustard seeds are hot and pungent. Nigella seeds have a peppery smokey flavor. Fenugreek seeds are aromatic with a slight bitterness. The combined seeds are sizzled together in hot oil that unleashes their flavors and aromas before other ingredients are added to the pan, and sauteed.
Make the Panch Phoron seed mixture before you start cooking.
- 2 tsp. cumin seeds (jerra)
- 2 tsp. anise seeds (saunf)
- 2 tsp. mustard seeds ( sarson)
- 2 teaspoons nigella seeds (kalongi)
- 2 tsp. fenugreek seeds (methi)
Combine the seeds and store in a jar with a tight fitting lid.
Gobhi Panch Phoron serves 4
- 1 medium size cauliflower, separated into florets
- 8 oz green beans (optional)
- 2 ½ teaspoons Panch phoron
- 3 tablespoons neutral flavored vegetable oil
- 1 large yellow onion, finely diced
- 1 inch knob fresh ginger, peeled, thinly sliced and minced
- 5 garlic cloves, peeled, and minced
- 1-2 fresh green chilies, seeds removed, finely diced
- 1 teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- 1/4 to ½ teaspoon red chile flakes
- ¼ cup water
- 1 tablespoon ghee (clarified butter) or butter
- fresh coriander leaves for garnish
I prefer steaming the cauliflower and green beans separately, both al dente, before proceeding with the cooking for this recipe.
Select a wide skillet or a wok with a lid and set it over medium heat. Add the oil to the pan and when hot add the panch phoron seed mixture. Using a wooden spatula, give the seeds a quick stir and then promptly cover with the lid as the seeds will immediately start sizzling and then popping, the seeds rapidly bouncing off the lid. Once the popping stops remove the lid and add the onions. Lower the heat slightly and saute while stirring until the onions are wilted, about 5 minutes.
Add the ginger, garlic, and green chilies and stir while sauteing another 2 minutes. Add a teaspoon of sea salt and the red chile flakes and stir until well combined.
Add the cauliflower florets and green beans (if using) and cook while continuously turning the vegetables for about 5 minutes. You will notice the pan drying out so it is important to keep the vegetables moving so they do not burn or stick to the bottom of the pan.
Then add the water and deglaze the pan using the wooden spatula, releasing any bits sticking to the bottom of the pan. Once the contents of the pan are bathed with the deglazed liquid add the ghee (or butter) and fold it into the ingredients until the vegetables are evenly glazed.
Taste and add salt if needed.
Serving: Spoon the Gobi Panch Phoron into a serving dish, garnish with coriander leaves and serve.
Clay pot cookery has been practised the world over ever since humans began cooking over open fires and sharing communal meals together. That seminal idea of shared one pot meals is still widely practised over much of the globe, even in our own modern 21st century home kitchens. In Asia particularly, clay pot cookery is still widely used at home as well as in restaurants. Japanese clay pot Shabu shabu and Sukiyaki restaurants are popular the world over, as are Cantonese clay pot chicken restaurants, and Korean Tubaegi Bulgogi shops.
Clay pot cookery in Asia has endured as a traditional way to prepare simple yet warming full bodied one pot meals during the fall and winter months. The donabe is one of Japan’s earliest traditional clay pot cooking vessels that is still used in most Japanese kitchens to this day. Likewise there are traditional clay pots used throughout South and Southeast Asia, China, Taiwan, and Korea. The flexibility of clay pot cookery is its appeal. The clay pot can be used directly over an open flame, on the stove top, in the oven, or set atop a portable gas burner placed on the dinning table which is a great way to involve everyone in cooking at the table during the meal, Asian style.
I acquired my first Japanese donabe nearly 40 years ago and I am still using it today as pictured. If you do not have a clay pot I urge you to go out and find one. Unlike the endless array of quirky unnecessary kitchen gadgets or the latest trending cooking equipment or appliances that you may use a couple of times and then shove to the back of a kitchen cabinet, a clay pot is a kitchen treasure you will use regularly. Clay pots are available in shops in Asian communities and online.
A few tips when purchasing a clay pot. As mentioned I prefer the Japanese donabe above all others. Donabes are heavy, durable, and they retain heat well. They are lightly glazed both inside and out. Some cooks prefer a more rustic unglazed clay pots, claiming they add flavor to what you are cooking. That claim is debatable. Unglazed pots are porous and require pre-soaking in water before each use to avoid cracking. Staining and durability is also continuing issue with unglazed clay pots.
If you are unable to find a retailer where you live you might check out Toiro Kitchen’s selection of Japanese donabes (click here) They are as beautiful as they are utilitarian.
When cooking with all clay pots, always begin cooking over a low flame at first with a little liquid, or oil if frying, in the bottom of the pot. Once the pot is heated you can then raise the flame gradually to the required temperature for cooking and simmering. To avoid cracking, always cool the pot after cooking and before submerging it in water for cleaning. Best to clean with warm water only, or at least avoid using soap in the interior of the pot.
The recipe that follows is one of my easy interpretations of a simple Chinese clay pot meal that includes cabbage, carrots, daikon radish, and lop cheong (Chinese hard sausage.) This is a basic combination of Asian vegetables infused with a beguiling slightly sweet smoky flavor of the sausage. Rice or noodles are often included in clay pot cooked meals as well. So throw caution to the wind and don’t worry too much about authenticity. There are endless possibilities at the discretion of the creative cook in all of us!
Asian Clay Pot Vegetables with Lop Cheong serves 4
- 4 to 6 lop cheong (dry Chinese sausage), casing removed,thinly sliced on the diagonal
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 large onion, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
- 1 large head Chinese or green cabbage, outer leaves removed, quartered, core removed, and very thinly sliced
- 1 large daikon radish, peeled, quartered, and cut into bite size pieces
- 2 carrots, peeled, thinly sliced and cut into thin batons
- 2 inch knob fresh ginger, peeled, thinly sliced, and finely diced
- hot stock to just cover ingredients
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 3 tablespoons light soy sauce + more to taste
- 1 to 2 teaspoons Szechuan pepper corns, lightly toasted and ground
- ¼ teaspoon five spice powder
- 1 teaspoon pure red chile powder or more to taste
As the lop cheong sausage is quite fatty I like to simmer the sliced sausage in a skillet with water for about 15 minutes to release some of the fat which you can spoon off the surface of the water and discard. Reserve the cooking liquid to add to the simmering pot later.
Preheat the oven to 350F/180c (if using the oven)
Place the clay pot on the stove top over low heat. Add the oil and after five minutes raise the heat to medium low and add the onions. Cook the onions until softened. Then add the cabbage and cook while tossing until the cabbage is wilted. Then add the daikon , carrots, and ginger. Cook while tossing the ingredients until slightly wilted. Then fold in the precooked sliced sausage until well combined.
Add the honey, 3 tablespoons light soy sauce, ground Szechuan pepper, five spice powder, and red chile powder. Toss until all the ingredients are well combined.
Add enough hot stock, including the reserved broth from the precooked sausage, to the pot to just reach the top of the ingredients. Cover the pot with the lid and simmer on the stove top, or transfer the pot to the oven, and cook for 30 minutes.
Check the level of the stock which should be just visible when a spoon is inserted into the vegetables. Add a little more stock if it is looking dry. Cover and continue to cook on the stove top, or return the pot to the oven, for another 30 minutes
Remove the lid and check the contents. The liquid should be reduced by about two thirds and the vegetables around the edges of the pot may just be beginning to color. If there is still excess liquid cook another 15 to 20 minutes. Taste and season with additional light soy sauce and red chile to taste and cover and set aside until you are ready to serve.
Transfer the clay pot to the table and serve with steamed rice.
Another lop Cheong recipe you might like to try (click here for recipe)