With the exception of my travels through the Balkans, I have yet to visit any metropolitan area where I didn’t stumble upon a pho shop. With their steaming bowls of noodles, broth, and an endless variety of add-ins, these Thai noodle soup shops have a cult like following that make them both universal and hard not to like. In grad school my favorite lunch was a steaming bowl of pho from the student union. The options were endless so I could eat there every day without repeating the same bowl of soup twice.
I had never made pho before but decided to give it a try when my craving for the hot broth covered noodles got the best of me. In browsing through recipe options I came across one in The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper. (For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, The Splendid Table is my favorite radio program on NPR. I can even stream their broadcasts online meaning I can get my Lynn Rossetto Kasper fix while living overseas). I was set to give the pho recipe a try then I turned the page and saw the Cambodian twist on the soup which sounded even more intriguing. Unable to decide which version to make, I combined the best elements of both recipes to form what I present here. You can also add or substitute ingredients as your palate or pantry dictates.
The verdict? This soup is delicious but a lot more work than popping into your local pho shop. But if you don’t have one in close proximity to you, make this soup. You won’t be disappointed.
CAMBODIAN NOODLE SOUP
For the broth:
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
5 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 two inch piece fresh ginger, thinly sliced
6 whole cloves
1 star anise
Freshly ground black pepper
7 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons Asian fish sauce
For the soup:
8 ounces linguine-style rice noodles
6 ounces thinly sliced top round steak
1 1/2 cups winter squash, diced
1 cup unsweetened pineapple chunks
1 medium tomato, diced
For the table salad:
10 sprigs fresh cilantro
8 sprigs Thai or other fresh basil
8 mint sprigs
Generous handful bean sprouts
2 Serrano chiles, thinly sliced
1 large lime, cut into wedges
Asian hot sauce
- Place a rack 4 to 6 inches from the broiler and then pre-heat the oven.
- Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and evenly distribute the onion, garlic, ginger, cloves, star anise, and five grinds of black pepper over the baking sheet.
- Broil for 5-6 minutes until the spices are fragrant and the onions begin to brown. Scrape the mixture into a large soup pot.
- Add the broth, sugar, fish sauce, and squash to the pot. Cover the pot tightly and bring the entire mixture to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes or until the squash is tender.
- Meanwhile, place the noodles in a large pan and cover with very hot tap water. Allow to soak for 20 minutes or until the noodles are tender. Drain, rinse with cold water, then divide evenly between two large soup bowls.
- Thinly slice the steak into bite sized pieces. (Hint: For easier slicing, place the steak in the freezer before you begin making the soup. Allow it to sit for 20 minutes then remove it from the freezer and slice). Evenly divide the meat between the two soup bowls. The hot broth will cook it to a medium-rare
- Arrange the table salad ingredients on a medium-sized platter and place on the table.
- When the squash is tender, add the pineapple and tomatoes to the broth and stir well to combine. Cook for 1 minute to allow the broth to return to a simmer.
- Ladle the broth over the noodles and meat and serve immediately topped with the table salad and sauces of your choice.