Pho is something that I didn’t even know existed, let alone grow up eating, until just a few years ago. And moving to Southern California, where excellent Vietnamese restaurants are literally on every other corner, has only served to strengthen my love for this intensely aromatic and deeply satisfying soup!
I love this dish for the simple yet intriguingly complex flavors of the broth. And the toppings. (Oh, the toppings!) And the way everything completely melts together while you’re eating it. It’s like sensory overload for your mouth; I could literally eat this stuff for dinner every night and never get tired of it. It’s just SO. GOOD.
The trouble is… this broth is one of those super, uber traditional broths that’s slaved over for several hours, usually all day, before it’s actually served. It’s normally cooked from scratch with all kinds of beef bones, and includes some pretty complex cooking techniques when done properly. And it’s actually a fairly healthy meal, aside from the rice noodles that usually come with it.
So I wanted pho last week… and I wanted it, like, right then. I hadn’t had any in the longest time. So I worked a little kitchen magic, and came up with a much faster, easier, “cheater” pho that is totally Paleo-friendly, but still stays true to all the flavors you’ll find in a traditional pho. So it’s not just any old beef noodle soup that I’m calling a pho to be fancy; it actually comes pretty dang close to replicating the legit taste of real pho!
I just spiralized up some zucchini noodles…
…and then got to work ensuring that the proper spices were included in the beef broth. You can totally use homemade bone broth, or just purchase broth from the store, depending on how much time you have. I picked up some at the store this time around, in the interest of time and getting pho into my face ASAP.
After you allow some of the spices to saute a few minutes, and the aromas are all wafting around smelling drool-worthy, you then add the beef broth and the other, even more essential spices: a whole star anise and a cinnamon stick! Yum!
The broth doesn’t take very long to cook and absorb all the magical flavors that have been added. I suggest cooking the zucchini noodles separately, because that’s how the traditional version works (and because my non-Paleo significant other likes having the regular rice noodles). But if you’re looking to save some time, you can totally simmer the zucchini noodles right in the broth pot at the very end. It might be a little hard to fish out the chunks of whole spices, amidst all that noodleyness, but if you’re up to the task, then why not? It’d be one less pot to clean. :)
Now, I’m always excited to share my recipes with my awesome readers (or else I wouldn’t have this blog!). But I have been particularly excited about sharing this one with you because I’m super proud of the results; this recipe totally does justice to the traditional version! I mean, this is like, really good. And Mike, who is pretty much the closest thing I have to a resident pho expert, also agreed that the flavors were pretty much spot on with the real stuff.
If you like a spicy pho, then you need to head over to NomNomPaleo for homemade 20-minute Paleo sriracha, which is the deep red stuff you see in my pho-tos (haha, see what I did there??). This dish was greatly complemented by the deep umami flavor she’s somehow managed to pack into her amazing rooster sauce, and I think every bowl of pho deserves a generous squirt (or ten) of it! :)
And don’t forget to pile on the toppings. Mmmmmmmm…..
*Side note: pho is traditionally served with bean sprouts (as another topping option), but I just omitted them altogether since they’re not Paleo.
Share your thoughts… how much of “Pho-natic” are you??
- 4 medium zucchinis, spiralized into noodles
- 2 tbsp extra light olive oil
- ½ small white onion, outer layer peeled off
- 4 to 5 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
- 3-inch chunk of ginger, peeled
- 1 ½ cups water
- 2½ cups beef broth
- 1 whole star anise
- 3-inch cinnamon stick
- 1 green scallion, sliced into pieces
- Sea salt, to taste
- ½ lb beef eye round, sliced extremely thin (approx. ⅛”)
- Thai basil leaves (good substitutes: Greek basil or fresh mint – see notes at bottom)
- Cilantro leaves
- Sliced jalapeno
- Fresh lime wedges
- Spicy chili pepper sauce (such as NomNomPaleo’s sriracha)
- Heat the light olive oil in a medium-size pot over medium heat. Add the whole half onion (cut side facing down), garlic, and ginger. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes until garlic is lightly browned, stirring occasionally.
- Add the water, beef broth, star anise, and cinnamon stick to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Let the broth simmer for 7 to 8 minutes. Add scallions, and season to taste with sea salt.
- While the broth is cooking, bring a separate pot of water to a boil (about 5 to 6 cups). When the water begins boiling, add zucchini noodles and cook for 2 minutes until tender but firm. Use a slotted pasta spoon (or colander) to remove noodles from water, and divide between bowls.
- From the pho broth, discard the ginger, garlic cloves, onion, star anise, and cinnamon stick. Add beef slices, and let simmer for about 10 seconds, just until cooked. Use a slotted spoon to quickly remove beef pieces from broth and divide between noodle bowls.
- Ladle a generous amount of broth into noodle bowls. Garnish with desired toppings.
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