Gratitude, Day 10: Pho Real

NOTE: I am a fan of 30-day challenges, and November is traditionally a time of two: National Novel Writing Month, and 30 Days of Thanks. As I am not a fiction writer, this year I have chosen to publish a daily blog for the entire month, expressing my gratitude. This may not be entirely food-focused, but expect recipes aplenty. Feel free to join me in the comments below. What are you thankful for today?

Day one in a new America, but day ten in the (now very challenging) gratitude challenge.

Yesterday was a roller coaster of emotion for me. I spent most of the morning in bed, crying when I thought about how I was supposed to teach yoga to children later that day.

I watched HRC’s concession speech and saw a more presidential non-president elect than I think I have ever seen. I half expected her to say, “You know what? Fuck you. I have given my entire life in service to this country, and you went with someone who has given his entire life in service to gaining wealth for himself.”

But she did not. As always, she was graceful, intelligent, and passionate.

So here we are, day ten of gratitude, and today, I am grateful for soup.

Soul medicine.
Soul medicine.

Not just any soup.

Soul-warming noodle soup from Mi & Yu Noodle Bar in Federal Hill (also now in Mt. Vernon but parking sucks there).

After teaching yoga I stopped off and picked up some soup on the way home – kimchi broth with tofu and pho for me, and vegetarian broth with tofu and ramen for Khristian.

I drove home in the dark and the rain and found Khristian in the kitchen, sipping bourbon and reading.

I took off my jacket and boots while Khristian unpacked our goodies. We sat down together in the dim light of the kitchen and consoled ourselves with spicy, aromatic, and deeply nourishing bowls of soup.

Exactly what was needed.

I have a recipe for pho, an amazing recipe that is full-on plagiarized from somewhere.

I repeat: this is not my recipe.

I repeat that because I recently saw someone try to pass this recipe off as their own on The Kitchn, word for word. Plagiarizing recipes is a big fat no-no, and I called them on it.

The problem here is that all I have of this recipe is a stained piece of paper with the ingredients and the method – no attribution. So I point out it’s not mine but cannot give full credit, which is distressing but sometimes that’s the way things happen. You cut out a recipe or jot down ingredients, not realizing that it will be life-changing and you’ll want to share it later.

If you are not lucky enough to live near Mi & Yu or some similar place, make this when you need comfort. The broth freezes beautifully, so you can even make it on a bright, sunny day and just save it for when the clouds roll in.


Born in Vietnam in the 1880s, pho is little more than beef broth with thinly sliced vegetables and meat cooked directly in the piping hot broth, served with fresh herbs and lime. I have very little experience with cooking Asian food in general and with pho specifically. I am sure there are a million variations on this very delicious theme.

But I don’t profess to be a connoisseur. I have not made a career of seeking out the best pho, and I have never been to Vietnam. I don’t trust street food, where, it’s rumored, some of the best bowls are to be found, and I didn’t even know how to properly pronounce the word until my friend Kerry’s husband Mark looked at me askance and said with a bit of an air, “You mean, FUH?”

But I will say that this is the best pho-king pho I have ever had. It takes work. Multiple days. It costs a lot of money, way more than a bowl of something just as good at a pho shop would taste. But at the end of it all, you get to sit down with a bunch of friends around bowls filled with fresh, brightly colored vegetables and meat and share something utterly delicious and satisfying.

Broth Ingredients

Note: Make this the day ahead. When ready to serve, heat to nearly boiling and refresh with sliced fresh ginger. This broth can also be frozen.

5 pounds beef bones with marrow (oxtails can also be used)
2 pounds beef chuck, or other similar, flavorful cut of stewing or roasting beef
2-3” pieces of ginger, bruised with a knife and charred (see technique below)
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and charred (see technique below)
¼ cup fish sauce (don’t skimp)
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
Toasted spices: 10 whole star anise, 6 whole cloves
1 tablespoon salt (not iodized; sea salt, preferably)

Broth Method

Charring technique: Bruising the ginger by pounding it with the flat of a chef’s knife before charring helps release more juice and flavor. For both ginger and onion, use tongs and hold over a flame until the sides are burnt and smoking. Both ginger and onions will become fragrant in about three or four minutes. Peel skin and discard before using.

For the spices: toast star anise and cloves in a dry sauté pan over medium heat until fragrant. Cool slightly and wrap in cheesecloth. Set aside.

For those with electric or convection cooktops, ginger and onions can be placed directly on the burner for the same effect. A crème bruleé torch can also be used.

Assemble two stockpots, one large and one medium. In the large stockpot, bring six quarts of water to a boil.

Place the beef bones and chuck in the medium stockpot and cover with water. Bring to a rolling boil and boil for five minutes. This first step removes impurities from the beef and helps you create a clear broth.

Remove the bones and beef with tongs and place in the large stockpot, discarding water from medium stockpot.

When the water returns to a boil, simmer for about 20 minutes, skimming fat and foam that rises to the top. Add charred ginger, charred onion, fish sauce, and sugar, then simmer for about 40 minutes until beef is tender (continue to skim the surface periodically). Remove beef, cutting it in half. Place half back in the pot, and the other half in a bowl of cold water for ten minutes. After ten minutes, remove from water and cut into thin slices (set aside for serving).

After about 90 minutes of simmering, add spice bag and allow to simmer and infuse the broth for about 30 minutes. Remove spice bag and onions, discarding both, then continue to simmer, skimming constantly. Add salt and cook for a total of at least two hours (the longer the better).

Remove bones and beef and discard. Strain broth through cheesecloth. At this point, the broth can be cooled and kept for later serving. It can also be frozen.


One package rice sticks, prepared according to package directions
Raw beef sirloin, frozen and then thinly sliced across the grain
Yellow onion, thinly sliced
Scallions, green part only, sliced into rings
Bean sprouts
Lime wedges
Asian basil (or regular basil if Asian basil is not available)
Chopped cilantro


Bring broth back to a rolling boil. If you have cooled it completely or frozen the broth, refresh with two or three pieces of fresh ginger.

Warm soup bowls with boiling water.

Assemble all of your garnishes. If you are having friends over, place all garnishes out and allow them to add what they like.

General guidelines for assembly combine cooked beef with raw ingredients that get cooked with the hot broth. Start with prepared noodles in the bottom of the bowl. Add a few pieces of cooked beef chuck and a few slices of raw sirloin. Ladle boiling soup on top of noodles and serve with large bowls of fresh onion, scallions, and herbs. Make slurping sounds and be prepared for not much talking.

What are you grateful for?