I had been planning on making beef stew tonight for supper based on the weather forecast from Monday---I expected a cold front to have made its way here by now. However, with the cold front just now starting to blow in, I decided to save the beef stew for tomorrow night instead. I have been craving Asian food lately and decided on pho bo or Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup for tonight. I realized I didn't have all the ingredients so I made a quick run to Central Market this afternoon to grab less than $6 worth of groceries. My short grocery list? 6 whole star anise (pictured at left, they are actually the size of a dime or smaller and for all 6 I paid less then 20¢. They smell absolutely wonderful, like licorice), a bunch of cilantro, a bunch of green onions, and a 8 oz package of thin rice noodles (which may also be labeled vermicilli---just make sure it's rice).
I had to start the broth hours before it was dinner time, which didn't prove to be a problem. In a large pot, I put in 3 quarts of water, 2 soup bones (probably 2 pounds worth), 3 beef bouillon cubes, and 1 onion I cut in half. I covered that and let it simmer for 2 1/2 hours or so. After 2 1/2 hours, I attempted to skim some of the fat off the top, I am not sure how successful I was, but I tried. An hour before we were planning on eating, I added 4 of the whole star anise. I let it simmer some more (so far, very little of work, just a planning ahead). At some point while the broth simmered away, I got ready the rest of the ingredients. I chopped 1/3 c cilantro and combined that with 1/3 c of thinly sliced green onions. I set that aside. Then I thinly sliced 1/2 lb of NY Strip Steak (the recipe suggests tenderloin or boneless sirloin but both of those pieces that I had were way too big. You can use as little as 2 oz of beef). The easiest way to thinly slice beef is to slice it while it is still partially frozen. I set the beef aside. Finally, in a medium pot, I brought a pot of water to a boil. Once it boiled, I dumped in the rice noodles and cooked them for 3 minutes. I then drained them, returned them to the pot off the heat, and covered them until we were ready to eat.
Just before serving, I removed the soup bones from the pot and took the meat off of them. The dog got the soup bones (man, was she happy!) and I cut the meat into as small of pieces as I could and returned them to the broth. I also added to the broth 1 T sugar, 2 T fish sauce, and 1 t salt. I made sure the broth was boiling vigorously and then served the soup.
To serve, I put noodles in the bottom of bowl, added a layer of cilantro/green onions, and then a few slices of raw meat (yes, raw). Then I ladled the soup on top of the meat. As I ladled the soup, I could see the meat cooking (that was pretty cool). If that method freaks you out, you can just throw the meat in the pot of broth and cook it for a little. On the table, I had a small bowl of freshly cut mint and sliced lemons for garnish. You could also add sliced chiles or bean sprouts as well.
The family's review---they loved it! M ate 2 bowls, which is rather unusual for her and soup. J ate his whole bowl and then scooped what he spilled off his placement to eat. Curtis and I ate two servings as well. We also had bok choy salad on the salad. It was a wonderfully light, yet flavorful and filling meal.