Wednesday, January 9, 2013

California Dreaming

A.G. Ferrari, San Francisco, CA
I am a California girl, born and raised. Lived in Southern California most of my life until about 4 years ago when Mike and I bought our home here on the Central Coast. There isn't much I don't absolutely LOVE about our State. I love the gorgeous blue coast line of the Pacific Coast Highway. I love the snow powdered mountains of Big Bear, the diversity of San Francisco and the rural back country roads in Paso Robles. But what I love the most about California is the FOOD!

Pancit and Lumpia from Broasted Chicken,
Port Hueneme , CA

This past week I visited a few friends in the Ventura County area and we made the short drive down PCH to LA and enjoyed the city for a few hours. We hit down town and Korea Town, Malibu and Pt. Hueneme. Obviously we had to EAT while we were running around! All weekend long I shamelessly gorged myself on Pancit from Broasted Chicken in Pt. Hueneme, Spicy Korean hot wings at KyoChon in LA and visited a number of Asian grocery stores up and down the 101 fwy. In short, I was in foodie heaven. 

I cannot say enough about how much I love love love ethnic foods. As much as I love the Central Coast, we are severely lacking in our selection of ethic foods. Sure, we've got some very good Mexican spots (one on every corner as a matter of fact) and a few token Chinese restaurants, but what about if what you're hankering for is a nice Curry, some Pho or Banh Mi...keep driving. I wouldn't even mind the lack of diversity in the restaurant scene IF we had ingredients for my favorite dishes at our local grocery stores, but we don't. Our last Asian foods market (that carried everything from lentils for my Indian Dal to glass noodles for my cold Vietnamese salad) closed down last year.

Tripe and Meatball Pho from Pho Super Bowl, Diamond Bar
So...whenever I am in Southern California or in the Bay Area I load my car with my Igloo cooler and a few bags of ice to transport my reaping's from my favorite different grocery stores. The Craft India Bazaar in SF is hands down my very very favorite place to visit while in the Bay Area. I could load up TWO Igloo coolers  from that place. Mike, the man of the house, loves their super sweet "donuts" packed in rose water and I love their selection of Naan breads and the rainbow array of split lentil beans.


I know many people in our little town who have migrated this way from larger cities, and like them, I have taken to making my own Ethnic food at home. So until I can get to the city again I will hold myself over with recipes like the one I am sharing with you today.

Pho. A delicious Vietnamese hot noodle soup. Pho...pronounced "Phah" by some, and I really won't get into the pronounciation too much because it can be a real hot debate. I'll just say that at every Vietnamese restaurant I go to I ask for "Phah" and they know what I am talking about,so..there.

I first had this amazing soup in Simi Valley at a place that no longer exhists. In San Luis Obispo County I can get it at one place in SLO and it is really really good there. Buuuut, I am lazy and hate driving the grade and so I have learned how to make a  humbler version of Pho. Take this recipe knowing that it is in no way a REAL or AUTHENTIC recipe. Have you ever made those little mini pizzas with your kids? The ones you make with jarred sauce on an English mufffin? Yeah, this Pho recipe is like that. Called the same thing and though you're not fooling anyone into believing it is the real eat it and it's good and your pizza cravings are thwarted until next time.

So here you go...


Prepare 1 package of cellophane noodles. In a large bowl, cover cellophane noodles with very warm water, let sit until soft. Drain and set aside.

Spicy Vietnamese Meatballs

1/2 lb ground pork
1/2 lb ground beef
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp chopped Thai basil (or regular basil if you cannot find it)
2 tbsp chopped green onion
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 lemon, zested
siracha, a few squeezes depending on your preferred spice level
a splash of fish sauce or soy sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl, allow flavors to incorporate for about an hour in the fridge. Using a small scooper or your tablespoon, spoon out your meatballs onto a greased baking sheet, I prefer a loosely shaped meatball, but if you MUST you can roll them into perfect little balls. Par cook the meatballs in your oven for about 7-9 minutes (they will finish in the broth). Set them aside until broth is complete.

Pho Broth

2 quarts of beef or chicken broth
1 inch nub of ginger, peeled
1 onion chopped
2-3 black pepper corns
2-3 star anise pods
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
salt and pepper to taste
a splash of fish sauce or soy sauce to taste

In a large pot with a little cooking oil, saute the ginger, jalapeno and onion until the onion is translucent, add garlic and cook until aromatic. Add your broth, pepper corns, anise, salt and pepper. Simmer for 30 minutes, if any scum or oil rises to the top, skim and discard. Bring the broth to a boil, reduce and add soy sauce or fish sauce, and the meatballs and shut off the heat. Serve over noodles immediately or gobble up as a delicious soup!

Garnishes and Assembly:

1 bunch of cilantro, chopped
2 large jalapenos, sliced thinly
1 large onion, sliced thinly
1 bunch of thai basil, chiffonade
1 cup of fresh mung beans
2 limes, sliced into wedges

Gather 4 very large soup bowls (invest in some proper Asian soup bowls!)
Using tongs (or your hands, if you're me) evenly distribute the cellophane noodles. Top your noodles with a few large ladles of the broth and meatballs. Garnish and enjoy with your favorite accoutrement, for me it's sirracha and that salty sweet sauce that goes by the name of hoison, lots of jalapeno slices and a ton of lime juice. What you should have in front of you now, is a wonderful piping hot bowl of Vietnamese comfort food. To those of you who have had Pho before, I hope this holds you over until you can make it to your favorite place again, and if you've never had it before...enjoy...and know that your life will never be the same!