It is a gorgeous Spring morning, a beautiful day to get back to work and routines after a marvelous holiday. I’m in my favorite green armchair armed with tea and dark chocolate gluten-free banana bread to get me through a massive to-do list. Chores are made immeasurably easier with decadent nibbles in between projects.
Over the holidays Bear and I spent a wonderful day exploring various parts of Brisbane with our dear friend Elizabeth. We had such fun scoping out new places for gelato, meandering through beautiful gardens, and taking in grand vistas from stunning overlooks. My favorite spot of all was the Asian market in Inala.
I felt like I had stepped into another world, as if somehow instead of beetling along in Elizabeth’s car, we had boarded a plane for parts unknown.
I loved everything from the chalkboard signage to the buzz of foreign languages around me. Everywhere I looked were beautiful faces from Africa, Russia, Vietnam, China, and a host of other countries.
The food selection was mind-boggling. I couldn’t focus long enough to buy anything at first. I just had to wander happily and, admittedly, slightly dazedly, as I tried to take it all in.
There were mounds of strange fruits, knobbly tubers, and even familiar fruits in unfamiliar hues.
You could smell the strawberries before you saw them and the mangoes and tomatoes were wonderfully plump and perfectly ripe.
I loved the unexpected vignettes that greeted me as I wandered down one shaded lane after another.
Elizabeth is Chinese and was able to explain a lot of the foreign produce we saw, but some of them had even her baffled. I loved chatting with the shopkeepers who were delighted to help me but burst out laughing when they realized they couldn’t remember the English words for any of the foods I pointed to.
I didn’t mind and happily stocked up on mangosteen and longan and could not resist tiny eggplants the size of golf balls. I quickly filled my box with massive bunches of fresh spearmint and a type of basil that looked like a cluster of maple leaves. I found plump sugar snap peas and massive avocados and a fruit that I didn’t recognize but was told was something like mangosteen.
It was wicked fun and so inspiring.
After the markets we headed into tiny little shops stacked floor to ceiling with weird and wonderful things. I found a massive steamer to make gluten-free dumplings (yay!) and more noodles than you can shake a stick at: glassy rice noodles, purple sweet potato noodles, and silvery potato ones. So fun. 🙂
Elizabeth treated us to an exquisitely delicious Vietnamese lunch of fresh spring rolls, sugarcane prawn salad, and my new favorite soup: phở
It looks like a very simple beef noodle soup, but one sip of that gorgeous broth and you are transported to heights of bliss.We kept sipping and savoring, guessing each flavor as it stood out to our taste buds.
I learned that in Vietnam, each family has their own secret recipe for phở that they guard fiercely. The basic recipe consists of dry-roasted spices simmered long and slowly with beef, onion, and garlic. Once fish sauce is stirred in, it’s poured over rice noodles and thinly sliced beef then topped with bean sprouts and fresh basil and/or mint.
I’ve been experimenting with my own version of phở and it keeps getting better. I only use a hint of anise since it’s such a strong flavor, double the onion and garlic because we adore those flavors, and add slices of crunchy snow peas as a topping. Bear likes a bit of soy sauce added to his broth. It has become one of my very favorite comfort foods.
What is the best fresh produce market you’ve ever been to? Do you have a favorite comforting soup?
1 aniseseed pod
1/4 tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed
1 stick cinnamon
5 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 tsp black peppercorns
8 cups water
2-3 cups stew meat, cubed
1 beef bone, roasted (roasted at 375 F for 30-40 minutes)
2 onions, halved (no need to peel)
6-8 garlic cloves, smashed but not peeled
1-2 Tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp sea salt (more, if needed)
2 cups thinly sliced steak (like for stir-fry)
1 package bean sprouts
1 cup snow peas, thinly sliced
1 bunch fresh Thai basil
1 bunch fresh spearmint
1 lemon, quartered
- Place first six ingredients in saucepan over medium-high heat. Dry roast, stirring to keep from burning, for 2-3 minutes until fragrant. Remove from heat.
- In large saucepan combine water, stew meat, roasted beef bone, onions, cloves, and spices. Bring to boil then lower heat and simmer for 2-3 hours until broth is strong and rich. Skim off any froth/fat.
- Strain broth through fine mesh sieve and return to pot.
- Stir in fish sauce, sugar, and salt and bring to boil.
- While broth is heating, boil water and pour over rice noodles. Let sit five minutes then drain well. Divide noodles between 2-4 bowls.
- Add sliced steak to broth and simmer until cooked through, about 1-2 minutes.
- Remove steak and divide between soup bowls. Pour broth over noodles and steak.
- Add bean sprouts, basil, spearmint, and fresh-squeezed lemon juice.