See How to Do It

Here we are in the brothers' apartment kitchen in Portland, Maine. The lady is me. In the middle is Quang, and on the right is his younger brother Minh. Below them is a picture of their mother who made this soup throughout their childhood.

Thanks mom! She's holding sea bass from their family farm. They sell 2000 pounds of it a year! Quang hopes one day to be a broker that gets a fair price for their fish.

Okay, first sautee minced onion, garlic and lemongrass.

This is what they call "spicy beef flavor paste." It's basically like "Better than Bouillon" beef paste but with spices in it - tomato paste, sugar, more lemongrass, cinnamon, ginger, cumin, star anise... FYI there is MSG in this. I'm working on a recipe for the paste without it and will get back to you. I just found one online and it looks good.

That dark stuff under the sugar is the spicy beef paste, with a little soy sauce and hot ground chili.

You add the sauteed garlic, onion, and lemongrass to the beef, mush it all together and let it marinate.

You brown the beef, then add some water.

Add some carrots.

Prep the fresh garnishes.

Minh doesn't use the tops of the lemongrass - just the thicker stem part.

He whacks the stems with a pestle he brought with him from Vietnam.

Whacking it barely makes a dent - this stuff is tough! But it does release the oils so they get into the food better.

See - they don't look smashed, but they were. You put them whole in the soup to get that awesome warming flavor in it.

You don't want mushy carrots, so take them out once they're cooked, and put them back in at the end. When the beef is tender, add peeled and haved small potatoes. Cook them 'til they're done. Add some water if you need more liquid. When the meat is tender and the potatoes are done, you stick the carrots back in.

Fresh Thai basil is different than what's in the supermarket. Thai basil is spicier and more minty. Regular basil will work, but as long as you're going out to find lemongrass or getting it online, try to find Thai basil while you're at it.


Photos by Margot Roy.
Photo of "mom" courtesy of Quang Nguyen.