Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Beef Noodle Soup - good for your blood & digestion!
I owe the inspiration to cook this at home to my friend Enisha - before this I always enjoyed eating Thai beef noodles, but I had never made them at home and I loved making a plethora of other noodles. Now beef noodle soup is at the top of my noodle dishes when having a noodle attack! Since the weather is still slightly cool and it's very important to eat warm foods when it's cold outside to protect your digestion, I am still making soups. In the middle of winter I'll tend towards a more hearty stew, but Thai beef noodles can be eaten in warm and/or cool weather because while they keep you warm they don't weigh you down.
Consequently, as I was making this soup I realized that a lot of the ingredients are very medicinal and while I have no idea if this was part of the thinking behind this soup, I was very excited to learn it! As I sit here typing the aroma of the beef neck that is stewing with all the spices and herbs is inspiring me further to share this dishes secrets!
This is by NO means the one and only way to make Thai beef noodles, and having researched it further - there are countless ways, in fact I am sure in Thailand you will find each beef noodle master to have their own little twist and secret. I know this because I have spent much time finding the "best" beef noodle soup in Bangkok, and each one has it's own nuances.
Here are the ingredients you will need:
1.Beef Neck (I love this cut but it's difficult to find - you can use many different types of beef, it depends on if you want to make the broth from scratch - IF you do, you MUST have bones on your meat. I've used short ribs and these work well but are more greasy and beef neck has a nicer shred in my opinion. If you are going to sidestep the 3-4 hours of cooking beef broth properly then you can buy some beef broth cubes or broth in a box or can and just buy a cut such as sirloin, skirt steak, etc, slice thin and add towards the end so it doesn't overcook and get chewy). **Medicinal note: cooking with the beef neck has the added bonus of getting a really rich broth from the marrow of the bone which is very good in conditions where you are weak, anemic, or post partum and post menstrual.
2. Garlic, Thai basil (it is more aromatic - but you can use sweet Italian as a substitute), fresh bean sprouts, morning glory (aka. water spinach) or pak kana (aka. Chinese broccoli), shallots, star anise, cinnamon bark, thick sweet soy sauce (you can use regular soy sauce if you don't have this), white pepper, fish sauce (aka. nam pla), lime, dried or fresh rice noodles (the thickness depends on your taste - I like sen lek which is the middle thickness (less than a fettucini and more than the thin string noodles).
**Medicinal note: star anise is good for the digestion and is a TCM herb, cinnamon bark is excellent for warming the kidneys and promoting circulation, basil is good for the digestion, white pepper can help in cases of diarrhea (considered a "cold stomach" in TCM), and garlic has endless uses (anti viral, anti bacterial, blood circulation, etc) but since it will be fried here it doesn't have as strong a benefit as if it were to be used raw (note: you need to smash the garlic and give it 15 mins. for the chemical reactions to take place to get the most medicinal benefit out of it - more on garlic later!).
Now, on to the next thing : HOW do you make these delectable noodles? Well, here are the steps and feel free to post questions if they are not clear enough.
1. Put beef neck (approximately 3-4 lbs depending on how many you will be cooking for but this will provide at least 8 hearty bowls of broth and beef with your noodles), in a big stock pot, covered in water. Add star anise (2-3 is sufficient, less if you don't like the taste of anise), 1 cinnamon bark (small size is fine), white pepper (1 tspn, you can add more to taste later), 1 tbspn of thick sweet soy sauce (if you use regular soy sauce, add 1 tbspn sugar). Bring to a rolling boil and let it simmer for a longgggg time (depending on how fresh the meat is) it should take about 2-3 hrs for the meat to begin to fall off the bone). Once it's cooked a while add some fish sauce to taste (but at least 1 tbspn if not more).
2. Meanwhile: soak the rice noodles (if they are dry) in water; slice up some shallots into thin half moons; slice up limes (NOT lemons which are yellow in color and much too sweet); wash the basil and leave on the stems; wash the bean sprouts; coarsely mince up some garlic and fry in vegetable oil so it's crispy then leave to the side in a small dish; make a small dish of prik nam pla with dried chile powder and fish sauce so you have a nice chile sauce for those that want more salt/more chile in their soup.
3. Cook the noodles for as long as the type you bought says and strain (at this point add the morning glory or chinese broccoli for the last 30 secs with your noodles), then add a small portion to each bowl, add raw bean sprouts on top, pour broth over it with pieces of shredded beef (avoid the star anise and cinnamon bark), serve to each person and have the following on the side to add as you individually please:
basil, lime, prik nam pla, crispy garlic, shallots
**Medicinal Note: Beef Noodle Soup is good for you if you are having trouble with your digestion and are experiencing excessive diarrhea or stomach cramps due to cold foods; it is also very good for those that are anemic, post partum, post menses, post surgergy where there has been blood loss.