DIY Soup

Even among friends, the dinner table is often divided. Picky eaters poke at their plates disinterestedly, while adventurous eaters dig around for something weird and exciting to show off their bravado. While parents complain of picky children, these very children, left untended, eventually grow up to be adults stuck in their ways after years of repeated behavior. These adults can be even more difficult dining companions than their childhood selves.

In the nearly two years since I began Global Table Adventure, I have learned something fundamental about the way we eat from my desperate attempts to get my now 2 1/2-year-old and picky husband to eat food from around the world: If it involves cutting, smashing, rolling or any sort of assembly at all, my daughter and husband will almost always try a new dish. Exhibit A: foe – a brothy soup made with raw beef and loads of fresh herbs – from Laos.

The night I served the foe, Ava’s little hands enthusiastically tore at the platter of herbs, sending a flurry of green into her bowl. She squeezed more fresh lime juice into her soup than most adults could handle. She ate plenty of chopped tomatoes and asked for extra helpings of the raw beef (which is briefly cooked in the boiling broth as it pours over the meat).

I was nervous about serving this adventurous soup to my husband, but the same rules apply to him – he really enjoyed selecting what herbs to add to his soup, how much lime juice (a very little) and fish sauce (none) he wanted.

This may, in fact, be the soup to unite picky eaters and adventurers alike.

Lao Rice Noodle Soup (Foe)

It’s time we take back the expression “Have it your way” from that mega corporate burger joint and put it back where it belongs – into our homes, into our own homemade meals. Take this soup from Laos, for example. Traditionally served for breakfast, but great any time of day, foe is a celebration of individuality, creativity and having it exactly how you want it .

Foe is a rice noodle soup, typically made with beef, pork or chicken. In Laos you might find funny organs and other delectables floating in your soup, but the real star is the bouquet of herbs, sauces and spices that each person adds to taste, making each person’s soup bowl totally unique. Today we serve the simplest version of all – thinly sliced raw beef, which cooks under the heat of the boiling broth and then topped how you’d like it.

For the broth:
2 quarts beef broth
1 stalk fresh lemongrass, bruised
1-2 inches fresh ginger, cut in chunks
1-2 inches fresh galangal, cut in chunks
4 kefir lime leaves
Fish sauce, to taste

For the toppings:
3/4 lb. sirloin, cut paper thin
1 lb. rice noodles, cooked according to package instructions and stored in cold water until needed

Garnish ideas:
Torn or chopped mint, cilantro, lettuce, Thai basil, green onion, lime wedges, tomatoes, Thai chilies, fish sauce, sprouts.

First, let’s turn plain ol’ beef broth into a fragrant, bubbling vat of Lao goodness. Simply add the broth to a medium pot and toss in the ginger, galangal, lemongrass and kefir lime leaves. Bruise each ingredient with a mortar and pestle to maximize the flavor. Simmer covered for 45 minutes. Splash in fish sauce to taste.

Meanwhile, prepare the rice noodles according to package instructions and place in a bowl of cold water until needed.

Next, thinly slice the beef, trimming any excess fat as you go. Refrigerate until needed.

Rinse and gather all the toppings.

Now the time has come. Put on your smile. Gather your hunger. Assemble your bowl.

First, add a mound of cooked rice noodles, top with raw beef and ladle boiling broth on top of beef. (If cooking the beef so briefly makes you nervous, feel free to simmer it a minute in the broth.) The meat will immediately turn gray as it cooks in the heat. The result will be bite after bite of oh-so-tender meat. Add as many herbs and toppings as you’d like. In my soup I literally had some of everything, and am so glad I did.

Definitely don’t skimp on anything, especially the hot peppers and fish sauce. Traditionally you’d eat the noodles with chopsticks and slurp the broth with a spoon. No matter how you sip it, though, I’m here to tell you this is the bees’ knees on a chilly winter day.

Sasha Martin is cooking one meal for every country in the world. Her picky husband and baby girl are along for the ride. Join the adventure for recipes, reviews and more at www.globaltableadventure.com.