Faux pho, to a tea

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Food & Dining

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Pho (say: fuh), that mesmerizing Vietnamese beef soup, takes time. Even Nancie McDermott's superb recipe in her "Quick & Easy Vietnamese" (Chronicle) — itself an express version — requires first making a broth with a pound of round steak.

So let's get this out of the way: This is not authentic pho. (Hopefully you gathered that by the recipe's name.) Rather, this quick soup is inspired by pho — and my own observation that one of my favorite teas, a rooibos (red herbal) chai, includes the very spices that create pho's intoxicating broth: cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom.

So I thought, what if I dropped a couple of tea bags into plain chicken broth, and took things from there?

Of course, this shortcut requires that you find rooibos chai tea. (I think using a black chai tea would impart too bitter a flavor.) Several companies make it, including Republic of Tea and Numi; you may need to go to a specialty store or online.

I made this soup at home with thinly sliced leftover rib-eye, but you can start with raw meat. If you wish, since we're faux-ing things, you could easily substitute sliced chicken breast for the beef.

Faux Pho

Prep: 15 minutes. Cook: 10 minutes. Servings: 4

2 ounces rice noodles

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 onion, diced

1 tablespoon chopped ginger root

1 tablespoon honey or sugar

1½ cartons (from 32-ounce cartons) chicken broth

2 to 3 tea bags herbal rooibos chai tea

2 tablespoons fish sauce

¼ to ½ pound rib-eye or strip steak, very thinly sliced, pounded thin

2 cups bean sprouts

½ cup basil or mint, coarsely chopped

1 jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced

1 lime, quartered

For noodles, heat large saucepan of water to a boil. Prepare according to package instructions.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat; add onion and ginger. Cook until ginger yields its fragrance, about 1 minute. Stir in the honey, letting it meld with the onion and ginger, about 30 seconds. Add broth; heat to a boil.

Lower heat; add tea bags. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tea releases its fragrance and flavors, about 2 minutes.

Stir in fish sauce; raise heat to medium-high. When mixture reaches a boil, lower heat to a slow boil. Add beef. Cook until meat is medium-rare, about 2-5 minutes.

Remove pan from heat; discard tea bags. Stir in noodles, bean sprouts, basil and jalapenos. Taste for seasoning. Serve with lime wedges for squeezing at the table.

Per serving: 228 calories, 7 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 32 g carbohydrates, 12 g protein, 829 mg sodium, 3 g fiber.