We love pho. There is little better than this big bowl of broth and noodles. Fragrant, steaming, and spicy, accented with the tang of lime, the heat of jalapeno, the herbal burst of basil and cilantro, all underscored with the heady punch of Sriracha, pho is happy, messy goodness. Soup, yes, but almost performance art as well. We spend several minutes when the bowls first arrive at the table, tearing herbs from stems, squeezing limes, slipping jalapeno slices into the broth where the pepper oils release into the liquid heat, and squirting big, loopy swirls of Sriracha on top. Ahhh, now that is good fun. The steam rises into the face with a scent that is both subtle and pungent.
In its authentic form, pho (pronounced something like “fuh”) is all about the broth. Vietnamese cooks spend hours, even days, producing broths that are masterpieces of layered and complex flavor. A true pho, made with such a broth, is exquisite. We are lucky enough to have a half-dozen or so Vietnamese restaurants within reasonable driving distance, so whenever the urge for pho strikes, we have the option to jump into the car and go. But sometimes we like to make a soup akin to pho at home. Because it is not strictly authentic, we call it faux. It uses leftover chicken or veggies, and takes no longer to prepare than the noodles take to soften. Authentic or not, it is wonderful.
For quickness of preparation, this recipe calls for regular chicken or vegetable broth. The resulting soup is wonderful. If you have 15 or so extra minutes, however, simmer the broth with chopped shallot, a hunk of ginger, a few star anise, a half-dozen cloves, a few glugs of fish sauce, and a spoonful of brown sugar. After simmering, strain the broth and proceed with the recipe. You will be amazed at how complex the broth has suddenly become. If you have considerable time, make your own broth with chicken or veggies, adding in those same flavoring elements just enumerated, and straining when finished. My, oh, my, you will be giddy. Creating such a broth is immensely satisfying.
Since this pho is faux, don’t worry about adhering to any preconceived notions of authenticity. This last time I made pho, for example, I used whole wheat spaghetti simply because I felt like it. I seldom use the traditional bean sprouts, became to my tastes they add little to the experience. You can use any protein, from beef to pork to tofu or what have you, or any vegetable or combinations thereof. The point of this recipe is ease of preparation. If you peruse the ingredient list, you will notice that the only ingredient not found in any and every grocery store is the Thai basil, so though as exotic as pho might sound, it is really quite quotidian. If you whip up a batch, especially with fall arriving, you will find yourself making it again and again.
8 cups chicken or vegetable broth
12 oz thin rice noodles (or other favorite long noodle), prepared according to package instructions
4 cups cooked chicken or vegetables, chopped
one large bunch Thai basil
one large bunch cilantro
3 limes, cut into wedges
2 jalapenos, sliced crosswise
Bring the broth to a boil. Into each of four (or so) bowls, divide the cooked noodles, the chicken or vegetables, and the broth. Each person adds basil, cilantro, squeezed lime, jalapenos, sprouts, and Sriracha to suit his or her taste. Consume happily.