Reverse-engineered Phở

Pho_Everett-WA_LAH_13One of the delightful things about visiting the west coast is the opportunity to eat at a large variety of ethnic restaurants. Of course we have international restaurants here in Colorado, but they’re small change compared to the abundance I’ve enjoyed in California or Washington. Just for example, within just a couple of miles of our old house in Cupertino there are now seven Chinese places specializing in dim sum. That’s more than exist in the entire state of Colorado. (I highly recommend the dim sum at New Port in Sunnyvale.)

The problem with visiting other places is that I develop a passion for certain foods, then discover that they aren’t readily available at home. When we first moved to Colorado Springs, twenty years ago, the only Indian restaurant was run by two Brits, and the food was pretty awful. The only solution was to learn to make our favorite dishes myself.

Pete would bring home suitcases of Indian spices and other ingredients from trips to Silicon Valley, and I’d spend hours chopping, grinding, and simmering. Cardamom perfumed my kitchen, dripping strainers of cheesecloth filled with paneer (a delicious fresh cheese) filled my sink. It was yummy, but I was thrilled when a place serving good Indian food finally opened in town.

Another dish I’ve learned to love is phở (pronounced “fuh?”), a bowl of noodles, protein, and vegetables, with just enough broth to make it soup. There are several restaurants here in the Springs; I need to sample them all! Meanwhile, the internet has a wealth of phở recipes. I read a dozen or so, then proceeded to combine and edit until I had something similar to the soup I had near Seattle (top photo), only with more vegetables. My recipe appears below.

Hailing from Vietnam, it’s not surprising that phở is the perfect meal to serve on a sweltering summer day. I hope you enjoy it!

Pho_BlkForest-CO_LAH_19Leslie’s Phở Reconstruction

Serves 4


  • 4 C beef stock
  • 2 C veggie stock
  • 1 tsp. low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 nickel-sized pieces peeled fresh ginger (or ½ tsp. ginger paste)
  • 1 tsp. chopped garlic
  • ½ tsp. lemon grass paste
  • 1 tsp. whole cloves (opt.)
  • 1 tsp. whole coriander (opt.)

Additions (as desired):

  • 1 lb. rice noodles (wide and flat, depending on availability)
  • ¼ lb. steak, thinly sliced and marinated a minimum of 30 minutes with 3 Tbsp. lime juice, 1 Tbsp. fish sauce, 1 tsp. minced garlic, dash cayenne, 1 tsp. sugar (or substitute)
  • scrambled eggs, cut into strips
  • tofu (choose from fried, baked, fresh, bean curd skin, etc.)
  • carrots, thinly sliced
  • celery, thinly sliced
  • bok choy, chopped
  • mung bean sprouts
  • sliced cucumber
  • mushrooms

Condiments (choose among):

  • fresh basil leaves, cut into strips
  • cilantro leaves, chopped
  • green onions
  • mint leaves, cut into strips
  • chili paste / sriracha / sliced chilies
  • tomatoes, cut into wedges, then thinly sliced
  • onion, very thinly sliced
  • 1 lime cut into 4 pieces

Marinate steak if you’re including it. (Chicken or shrimp can be substituted, but I haven’t tried those.) If beef is a tougher cut, sprinkle with tenderizer as well.

Simmer all broth ingredients for 30 minutes. Strain, discarding solids. Return broth to pot.

Meanwhile, soak rice noodles in hot water until softened but still chewy, about 30 minutes. Drain.

While broth is simmering, prepare other ingredients: Sauté beef in 1 tbsp. hot oil in wok until medium, lightly steam (or microwave) veggies that need a bit of cooking (mushrooms, bok choy, carrots, celery), fry or heat tofu. Do not overcook!

Put condiments on table for people to help themselves.

To serve: Divide noodles among 4 bowls. Add whichever proteins and veggies you want. Pour hot broth into bowls. Add condiments to taste. Finish by squeezing lime wedges over soup. Each bowl of soup should contain broth, rice noodles, a protein (beef, egg, tofu), several veggies, some condiments (herbs, chilies), and a squeeze of lime.

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