I couldn't decide what to make, I was criss-crossing the globe in my mind when it hit me; the perfect dish was right down the street. A couple of weeks ago I got a terrible cold, and one evening there was a knock on my door, it was Heidi, her daughter Amanda and mine are friends. She had heard I was sick and brought me a huge pot of Pho Ga (chicken noodle soup), with all the condiments and all the fixings to make spring rolls. I was overwhelmed by her thoughtful and kind gesture. When I was well, I couldn't wait to return the favor. I asked Amanda what her favorite dessert was, and set about making a cheesecake to bring her. We started talking about food and I mentioned how much I had loved the soup, and she wanted to teach me how to make it. She even offered to take me to the Asian grocery store to get the right ingredients. The more we talked, the more I realized how much we had in common. Heidi came to American as a young woman for a better life, but she enjoys nothing more than cooking her homelands cuisine. She confided in me, she was worried her daughter was starting to like American food more than Vietnamese. This really struck me, because growing up my mom was always encouraged to be American and fit in and here Heidi was fighting to not lose her heritage.
I came to her house prepared to take notes and she started cooking for me, she said it is easier for me to show you than tell you. She thinks her English is bad, but I didn't think so at all.
Pho Bo Broth:
2-3 lbs. beef with bones
1 lb. beef, sliced paper thin
6-7 qts. water
1/4 cup star anise, whole
3 sticks cinnamon
3-4 tbsp. fish sauce
1 whole yellow onion
a couple inches of fresh ginger root
1 large piece crystal rock sugar
As she was giving me directions, she kept getting this look on her face and finally I asked, "What gives"? She was too embarrassed to correct me, but I kept saying fo, when it's actually pronounced fuh. After we had our giggle and broke the ice, things went a lot easier.
She shared her favorite fish sauce with me:
On a baking sheet she placed the onion and ginger and baked them in a 400 F degree oven for about 15-20 minutes. Peeled the outside skin off and put them aside.
She had a pot of boiling water on the stove, put the beef in it and cooked it for about 5-10 minutes; to get out the impurities like blood. Then she emptied the water and put fresh on to boil, added the beef, onion, ginger, rock sugar, fish sauce and a tablespoon or so of salt. I loved the way she measured; she used an Asian soup spoon. Turned it down to simmer and left it on for about 2 1/2 hours. Skimming off the scum, she said, the fat is okay to leave in the broth.
In a another pot, she put a couple pieces of ginger, a handful of the star anise, cinnamon sticks and about 2 cups of water. Let it boil, then turn down to simmer. You skim the top off this spice mixture and add it to the finished stock. Do not boil the spices in the stock mixture.
I was admiring her knife and wanted to help; she pulled out a brand new one and said, "I will sell it to you, because it is bad luck in my culture to give away knives". "Of course, I wouldn't have it any other way", I said.
She had me slice the onions, following her paper thin ones was a challenge. Then we washed herbs, cilantro, Thai basil and mint. Soak in water with a little salt and rinse a minimum of three times, she told me.
The noodles she likes to use are fresh rice noodles (Bahn Pho).
To cook them, she keeps a pot of hot water on the stove, not boiling she says. Puts the noodles in a strainer, lowers them into the water for a few seconds till soft, removes and drains them.
I helped her put the condiment plate together, bean sprouts, fresh herbs, lemon wedges, and chilis. On the side, she gave us plates with sriracha sauce and hoisin sauce.
She pulled some egg rolls out of her freezer too and cooked us those and showed me how to make fish sauce to dip them in.
She put some noodles on the bottom of the bowl, some onion, and herbs, then placed the raw beef and cooked beef on top, then ladled on the hot broth.
Then we got to go sit down and eat our masterpieces.
I hope I honored Heidi's gift by sharing her and this recipe with you. I know what you are thinking, what about the Vietnamese spring rolls, I will share them with you on Monday.