Queen Anne Cooks! PHO BEEF SOUP

Pho (pronounced fuh) is an aromatic, hearty Vietnamese soup so beloved in its country of country that it's considered the national soup. Conceived in North Vietnam's Hanoi shortly after French occupation, it was popularized throughout the country in the 1950s, when those fleeing communism brought the soup to their new homes in the south. By the time it made its way to America, Pho was well established as the comfort food of a divided nation.

Today, pho restaurants are fairly common in Seattle, where the Vietnamese population was sixth highest in the country in 2000. Queen Anne got its first taste of pho with the recent opening of PhoViet Anh Restaurant (372 Roy St., 352-1881). Owned by Henry and Carol Pham, the kitchen is run by Ms. Pham, who's worked in the restaurant business for 40 years - including many in Saigon. The couple met 1991, when Ms. Pham migrated to San Francisco, where they lived until the past year when Mr. Pham quit his job in the graphics department of PC World Magazine, cashed his stock options and moved to Seattle with Ms. Pham and their three daughters to realize Ms. Pham's longtime dream of running her own eatery. She's spent the past 15 years perfecting her pho recipe, and the proof is in the bowl: the Steak Pho is beefy with a wonderful, subtly spiced broth.

Although authentic beef pho begins with a meat stock that simmers for hours (Ms. Pham cooks hers for eight), shorthand versions may include canned chicken or beef broths, as in the following recipe, which is just right for the home cook who doesn't have the requisite time or oxtails for the traditional variety. Even so, this pho is wonderful in its own right and perfect for a stormy Northwest night.

-Elizabeth Kruse

Serves 4

6 cups beef broth

2 tablespoons chopped ginger

2 whole star anise

1/2 cinnamon stick

1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns

1/4 cup fish sauce

1 16-oz. pkg. flat rice noodles

1/2 pound sirloin, sliced into thin strips (easiest to do if partly frozen)

3 scallions, chopped

20 leaves fresh basil

1 cup cilantro, chopped

2 cups bean sprouts

2 red or green chili peppers, sliced thin lime quarters

Soak noodles in warm water for 20 minutes, drain, cook in boiling water 4-5 minutes, drain again and rinse with cold water.

Boil broth, ginger, anise, cinnamon and peppercorns together in a large pot. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Strain broth (discarding solids), return to heat, add fish sauce and bring to boil.

Place noodles in 4 warmed bowls; top with beef and scallions. Pour boiling broth over top to cover noodles (broth will cook beef).

Remaining ingredients should be served on a side plate and passed at the table, alongside fish sauce, hoisin and hot chili sauce (such as srirachi).

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