Sunday, October 4, 2009

Beef Zap Zap Soup

This recipe has a very special place in my heart. Up on Queen Anne, there used to be an annex of the Orrapin Thai restaurant that served a dish called Beef Zap Zap soup. This stuff was heaven in a bowl, the perfect cure for any ailment. One of my most memorable experiences with this soup was the day after my 30th birthday party. I'd stayed up talking with Evan until 5am (and yet still wasn't sure if he fancied me) and had a progressive hangover--the kind that worsens as the day goes on. Jenn and I headed to the noodle house for some restorative zap zap. The next day, I got the email from Evan asking me out on our first date and we've been together ever since.

I was horrified when Orrapin decided to rethink their annex and removed zap zap from the menu. At that time, I had not yet had pho, so I didn't know that it would be a good approximation. I went online and discovered the recipe that would become the basis for a homemade zap zap. Of course, I now have no idea of my original source. I made some modifications based on the kinds of ingredients I find easy to obtain. It's not worth it to me to keep around recipes that require trips to far-flung reaches of the city for ingredients. In addition, I omitted the pepper flakes to allow each person to spice up the meal individually.

We had some beef soup bones in the freezer from the cow share we participated in earlier this year, so I made up my own stock to infuse with zap zap goodness. In previous years, I had started with storebought stock and it does work fine, just be careful about the salty ingredients you add--keep tasting for balance. Because I made my own stock, I had 4.5 quarts of it to work with. I infused the whole lot and will love having some pre-infused broth on hand in the freezer for cold winter nights.

I didn't use to make the soup with all that many vegetables, but we try to pack as many veggies as we can into every meal these days, so I suggested carrots and greens as possibilities. For little ones or anybody who has trouble slurping up rice noodles, I think that you could get away with stirring in some cooked brown rice as a substitute.

If you don't wish to use steak in the soup, you could also add cooked chicken or tofu.

INGREDIENTS FOR BROTH
4.5 qt beef stock (I used homemade unsalted)
2 stalks lemongrass, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 star anise
8 cloves garlic, smashed
4 kaffir lime leaves (I suspect mine were just regular lime, but they were at the store, so I bought them)
2-inch piece of ginger cut into 1/2 inch pieces (if you've got access to galangal, use that)
1 TBSP chopped cilantro (I used those nifty frozen cubes from Trader Joe's) or to taste
4 TBSP dark soy sauce
1 TBSP light soy sauce
2 TBSP fish sauce
1 tsp salt
2 TBSP dark brown sugar or to taste
(2 tsp red pepper flakes optional)

DIRECTIONS
  1. Place all ingredients in a large pot and simmer for 20-60 minutes
  2. Strain out the spices
  3. If not using immediately, quickly cool to a safe temperature before refrigerating or freezing
  4. If ready to eat, place some broth in a large bowl and add any of the following
BROTH ADDITIONS
Rice stick noodles softened in warm water or in some broth
Bean sprouts (blanched)
Very thinly cut steak either pre-blanched or cooked in very hot beef broth
Cooked chicken
Tofu
Grated carrots
Finely chopped or processed greens or cabbage (Bok choy would be particularly nice, I think)
Thai basil, chopped
Jalapeno peppers to taste (optional)

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