The Magical Healing Powers of Beef Pho

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‘Tis the season for stuffy noses, sore throats and that illusive, but ever spreading “nasty bug.” After hitting two of my coworkers with a vengeance, that dreadful sickness finally caught up to me two Sundays ago, and man, did it hit hard! I pushed through the first two days of the week, not wanting to use up too many sick days, but by Wednesday, with my body sore all over and throat on fire, I threw in the towel. “Good morning. This plague has finally caught up to me and I really need to rest up and be rid of it. Sorry, but I need a sick day today,” I emailed my supervisors. Immediate response from my office’s witty Chief of Staff, “Look at you with that Catholic guilt. Take the sick day and don’t think twice about it. Rest up bella.” A few years ago, a former roommate introduced me to the delicious healing properties of pho and ever since then, whenever I’ve been sick – especially with a horrible sore throat- I crave it!

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This Vietnamese comfort dish is made up of a delicious and flavorful hot broth, spooned over a bowl of fixings to your heart’s content – noodles, bean sprouts, fresh thai basil and cilantro, jalapeños and generally beef or chicken, but very rare, as the hot broth does the remainder of the cooking. One of the many things I love about pho is how you can really individualize your own bowl, whether that means a chunkier soup with less broth, or a pho heavy on the broth, as I had done with mine.

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I tend to have a hard time simply relaxing, even when taking a sick day. After forcing myself to go lay down for a few hours, I woke up with an empty tummy and an even harsher sore throat. Craving something soothing, I settled on creating a pho with the ingredients in my kitchen, but realized I lacked a very key component- star anise.

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A key ingredient of the traditional five-spice powder in Chinese cooking and Vietnamese cuisine, star anise has a very sweet, yet peppery flavor. The star-shaped fruits are harvested just before they ripen, and can be used whole or ground up. In the case of broths, the whole fruit can be added to liquids and left to simmer away, adding its unique flavor. Many will say that my recipe cannot be considered a true pho without the star anise, and they would be right. But, I can safely say I have managed to create a pho recipe, without the star anise that tastes like it came from the Vietnamese restaurant down the street. And when you can replicate take out, you know you’ve got something good! Now if you’ll excuse me, my throat needs some more of this pho’s soothing powers…

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Beef Pho

  • 3/4 lb flat iron steak
  • small piece of ginger, peeled
  • 2 small onions, halved
  • 3 cups beef broth
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinammon
  • touch of ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce
  • jalapeño
  • thai basil
  • cilantro
  • rice noodles, cooked
  • bean sprouts
  • green onions
  • plum sauce
  • hot chili sauce
  • limes, cut into quarters

In a hot pan over medium-high heat, sear the beef for just around two minutes per side. Place on a plate to rest, while you  cook the broth (the hot broth will cook the meat through, so don’t worry on the rareness of the meat). In a large pot on medium heat, add in the piece of ginger and onion halves and cook for 4 minutes. Add in the beef broth and 3 cups of water. Cook for another 4 minutes, then add in the cloves, cinnamon, ground ginger, and brown sugar. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. During this time, cut the beef thinly, against the grain, and also slice up the green onions and jalapeño. Remove the onions from the broth and set aside on a plate. Add in the fish sauce and bring the broth to a boil for 5 minutes. Now, to assemble: place some noodles in a small bowl and top with the hot broth. Add in the beef, bean sprouts, onions, jalapeño, basil, cilantro and a squeeze of the lime. Taste for flavor and add in a touch of plus sauce if you’d like it sweeter, or a touch of hot chili sauce if you’d like it spicier (I like mine on the sweeter side so I opted for a touch more of plum sauce).