A mother-daughter conversation on food and cooking (mostly)

Monday, February 4, 2008

Vietnamese Meatball Soup

This was the easiest soup. I love Mai Pham's Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table, which I bought for Lawson a few years ago. Traditionally Lawson cooks the Asian foods around here and I handle the other continents, but lately I've been moving in on Asia as well (though my wok skills have a long, long way to go).

The book is fun because the recipes are so simple. And this recipe is fun because it's so dorky -- rather than the beautiful thinly sliced rare beef you expect from Vietnamese soup, it contains big dumb American-looking meatballs. Pham says it's like a Chinese version of pho, popular in Saigon's Chinatown. I just loved it. Here is my slight variation.

The meatballs:
- 1 pound or less ground beef, fairly lean
- 1 tablespoon chopped shallot or onion
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- And the recipe doesn't call for it, but next time I will add a very small amount of grated ginger, lime zest, and/or chopped cilantro. I thought the meatballs needed a little more seasoning on their own.

Mix, form meatballs, and set aside.

Noodle prep:
Prepare 8 to 12 oz rice noodles (soaking, boiling, both, whatever the package says) and set aside.

The broth:
- 1 quart beef broth. The recipe specifies storebought. I like those Pacific-brand cartons, and they always seem to be on sale at the natural foods store.
- 4 cups water
- 1.5 teaspoons five-spice powder
- a 2" chunk of ginger, peeled
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- fish sauce to taste

Combine and bring to a boil. Add meatballs and simmer about 10 minutes, until cooked through. Remove meatballs.

Final prep:
Place noodles in bowls along with:
- bean sprouts
- carrots, julienned
- romaine lettuce leaves
- chopped cilantro
- chopped green onions

Cover with broth and add meatballs. Serve with lime wedges, fish sauce, and sambal.

If it's not the dead of winter or you live in a magic greenhouse, also serve with Asian basil and chopped fresh Thai chiles.

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