It started about 6 months ago, I walked into an unassuming restaurant in Coolidge Corner and decided to go with their signature dish. The restaurant was Pho Lemongrass, and the dish was Pho. I remember the evening well. Sitting at their table, enjoying a simple glass of wine, and then a trio of condiments was set before me- little glass containers of Sriracha hot chili sauce, chili garlic paste and Hoisin Sauce. I was immediately intrigued as to what would be coming next. My waitress, as though hearing my thoughts, soon delivered a plate piled high with bean sprouts, lime wedges, and thai basil. A wave of happiness flushed over me as it occurred to me- I would get to add my own variations of flavors to this meal. To state the extreme obvious- I LOVE cooking, and so when a restaurant allows me the joy of playing with my food to make new flavor creations- well- I'm on cloud nine. Anticipation was growing by the moment, and then finally, the piece de resistance, the Pho was set before me. Pho was served in large bowl filled with amazingly aromatic broth, with chives, onions, and cilantro swimming in its steamy goodness. A pile of rice noodles sat in the bottom of the bowl, a pillow for the rare steak I had ordered as my protein. The steak, cooking in the liquid was transforming in front of my eyes from it's pink hue of innocence, to its brown, weathered, cooked through self. The visual presentation was incredible, but as the scent of the soup filled my nose, I knew that my taste buds were the recipients of the real treat. Pure, the soup was delicious- full of onion, ginger, and spices. I liberally added the condiments previously served, and masterpiece perfection was born. Spice from the chili sauces, sweetness from Hoison, earthy sweet goodness from thai basil, citrusy lightness from the lime, and finally a delicate crunch from the bean sprouts. Pho, I learned that evening, is perfection.
I have returned far too many times to list here, and each time I wonder if I could possibly love it even more on every visit. Finally though, I decided, it was time to try my own hand at making it.
I set off for the grocery store and knew that my version would be a bit different. I had read a few recipes to get the general idea of the broth, but lacking the time to make my own stock (for shame!) I knew that store bought beef broth was in my future. I also had a weird hankering for barley- so I decided to use it as the starch as opposed to noodles. The other sad difference, I could not find Thai Basil- so I subbed regular basil. Do not do this.
Back home- I set to work on my first home creation of Pho.
1 tsp sesame seed oil
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1tbsp ginger, chopped
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped (seeds and veins included)
zest of one lime
2 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
3 cans beef broth
1 cup barley, prepared as package describes
1/2 pound shaved steak
Fresh basil leaves, torn or chopped
Fresh Cilantro, chopped
Chili Garlic Paste- to taste
1 lime- sliced
Heat stock pot with sesame seed oil, then add the garlic, ginger, onion, jalapeno and zest. Add a pinch of salt here. Over medium heat sautee these ingredients until they become aromatic, and the onions and garlic translucent. Add the cilantro to the mix, and then the soy sauce. Add three cans of broth and simmer for 30 minutes -give or take. During the last two minutes of cooking add the steak.
In a bowl, add a scoop of barley, ladle the broth, with steak over the top, serve with the garnish.
This was an incredibly easy soup to make, however I made a fatal flaw. For some strange reason I lost all semblance of culinary prowess during my process here and added four wedges of lime to the simmer pot of soup, and then left them there for a half hour. Anyone know what happens when you do that? The bitter peel permeates the soup. Right. So I spent another half hour trying to dull out the bitter flavor with a variety of sweeter ingredients. Overall, this was a delicious soup, and very similar in feel and flavor to my beloved Pho. I am not, however, satisfied. More Pho adventures are in my future- stay tuned!