low salt vietnamese rice noodle soup with meat

Vietnamese rice noodle soup or pho is a light soup. And most people would agree that it’s “light”  because it doesn’t have cream in it. It has low-sodium chicken broth from a can in it.  It’s true that canned low-sodium chicken broth is more convenient, but let’s talk about how much salt is good for you. According to the Mayo Clinic we should consume 2300mg salt per day or 1500mg if you are over 51. If you use canned low-sodium broth and use the fish sauce (1/4 cup), salt (to taste), and soy sauce (2 tablespoons low sodium)  in the amounts given in the original recipe, then you will consume between 1440-1450mg sodium per serving. So I made many changes to this recipe from America’s Test Kitchen’s Light and Healthy cookbook.  I made the soup using home-made broth as its base. I have also cut down the fish sauce as well as  eliminated the soy sauce and the sugar–you don’t need it if the salt is reduced. And, I suggest tasting the soup before adding any more salt or seasoning sauce.

Broth (home-made)
2 onions, minced, about 2 cups
1 tablespoon fish sauce
4-8 garlic cloves, minced
1 lemongrass stalk, bottom 5 inches only, trimmed and sliced thin (See note)

Note: Cut off and discard all but the bottom 5 inches. Trim the stem end. Peel and discard any discolored sheaths on the stalk. Split the stalk in half lengthwise then mince each half crosswise.

1 teaspoon canola oil
4 chicken wing tips
10 cups water
2-4 star anise pods
2-4 whole cloves
Salt and pepper

Noodles, Meat, Garnish
12 oz (1/4 inch wide) dried flat rice noodles
3 cups bean spouts
1 cup fresh Thai basil (see note)

Note: You can substitute Italian basil. Simply roll a bundle of  leaves into a cigar-shape then slice thinly.

1 cup fresh cilantro, leaves only (see note)

Note: Wash and dry a bunch of cilantro. Holding the stems in one hand and resting the leaves lightly on the cutting board, slice downward with a sharp knife to take off the leaves.

2 scallions, sliced thin on the bias
1 fresh Thai, Serrano, or jalapeño chili, stemmed, seeded if desired, and minced
1 lime, cut into wedges
12 ounces beef or pork tenderloin, sliced 1/4 inch thick medallions. If you wish, you can slice larger medallions in half.

  1. For the broth. I combined the onions, 1 tablespoon of the fish sauce, garlic, lemongrass, and oil in a large pot. Two large pots, actually, since the Teeny Tiny Kitchen needs a Dutch oven.  Then I covered the pots and cooked the onion mixture over medium  low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions  softened, 8 to 10 minutes. I turned up the heat to medium and added the chicken wings then sautéed them until they were no longer pink. I reduced the e heat to low and covered the pot(s) again. I simmered the chicken 20 minutes to release their juices. Meanwhile I froze the beef or pork so it will slice easier.
  2. While the chicken was simmering, I boiled the water in a kettle.  To the chicken mixture in the pots, I stirred in the boiling water, star anise, and cloves and simmered again. I covered the pots and reduced the heat to low, cooking until the flavors blended, about 20 minutes. Using a fine mesh strainer, I strained the broth, discarding the solids, tasting and adjusting seasonings with fish sauce or salt and pepper. I combined the two pots of  broth into a clean pot.
  3. For the noodles, meat and garnish. I boiled 4 quarts water in a large pot. I removed the pot from the heat, added the noodles, and let them sit, stirring occasionally, until the noodles are tender but still chewy, about 6-10 minutes. Don’t let the noodles sit too long. By this time, the meat was ready for slicing.
  4. Immediately I drained the noodles, dividing them evenly among individual serving bowls, topping each with 1/2 cup of the bean sprouts, and set them aside. Next I arranged the basil, cilantro, scallions, chili, and lime wedges on a plate and set them aside for garnishes.
  5. To cook the meat, I returned the strained broth to a simmer over medium high heat, then reduced the heat to low. I added the meat to the broth and braised it until it was no longer pink, about 1 minute. Here’s a tip: I dunked the meat in the soup using a Chinese cooking strainer.  Ladle the hot soup over the noodles and serve, passing the garnishes separately. The meat should have that just-tender melt-in-the-mouth feel so don’t overcook it!

Per 1 1/2 cup serving: Cal 360; Fat 5g; Sat fat 1.5g; Chol 40mg; Carb 60g; Protein 18g; Fiber 2g; Sodium 1440mg (these figures will vary if you make your own broth)


  • Vietnamese Rice Noodle Soup with Chicken. Follow the recipe for Low Salt Vietnamese Rice Noodle Soup with Meat by substituting 12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breasts with the broth in step 2 and simmering until the chicken registers 160-165˚F on an instant-read thermometer, 10-15 minutes. Remove the breasts from the broth before straining. When cool enough to handle, shred the meat into bite size pieces. Substitute the shredded chicken for the meat in step 5.

Per 1 1/2 cup serving: Cal 340; Fat 2.5g; Sat fat 0g; Chol 35mg; Carb 60g; Protein 18g; Fiber 2g; Sodium 1450mg (These calculations will vary if you make your own broth)

Shrimp Fauxsotto

I found this recipe in Famous Footwear’s in-house magazine Mind Body Sole. Really! But you know me, I’m willing to try anything if it looks good. We’re now on Cycle 3 of the 17-day diet which allows us to have carbs at dinner. So why not? The author of this recipe calls it a mock risotto or fauxsotto, which I hoped would not taste like shoe leather, just because it’s made with instant brown rice rather than arborio rice. As if rice wasn’t rice. Anyway I am quibbling. It’s the English teacher in me. It was a satisfying meal, tasty, but too soggy for my taste–instant rice just does not hold up well to “stirring often” required for a  risotto, even a fake one. Anyway I like rice al dente. I think I will reduce the liquid by one cup the next time I make this. In order to clean out the fridge and freezer in the Teeny Tiny Apartment I made my own chicken broth out of bones, scraps, and leftover vegetables.

Shrimp Fauxsotto

5 cups low fat reduced sodium chicken broth
¾ cup dry white wine
6 tablespoons butter substitute
1-2 tablespoons minced garlic
¼ to ½ teaspoon dried crushed pepper
¾ pound uncooked medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
½ cup finely chopped shallots
1 ½ cups instant brown rice
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup cut asparagus
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or cilantro
¼ cup fat free chive and onion cream cheese
½ cup low fat herbed goat cheese
Salt and pepper

Warm broth and wine. Keep broth warm in a saucepan on the stove top. Warm ¼ cup wine in the microwave.

Cook shrimp. Melt 2 tablespoons butter substitute in a skillet over medium heat. Add half the garlic and crushed red pepper and sauté 30 seconds. Add shrimp and sauté until the shrimp just turns pink, about 2 minutes. Add remaining ½ cup wine. Simmer until shrimp are cooked through, about 2 minutes. Do not overcook shrimp. Drain shrimp, reserving cooking liquid.

Make rice. Melt 4 tablespoons butter substitute in large skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and remaining garlic; sauté until shallots are pale golden in color, about 4 minutes. Add rice and stir to coat, about 2 minutes. Add 1-2 cups broth. Simmer until liquid is absorbed, stirring often. Continue adding broth ½ cup at a time, stirring often and simmering until liquid is absorbed before adding more, about 20 minutes total.

Add cheeses. Make sure there is a little liquid left at the bottom of the skillet and stir in cream cheese and goat cheese. Place peas and asparagus in a layer on top of the rice. Cover and allow remaining liquid to steam vegetables.

Put on the finishing touches. Uncover and cook until rice is just tender and creamy, about 5 minutes. Add a final shot of white wine. Stir in reserved shrimp cooking liquid. Add shrimp. Remove from heat.

Serve. Stir in 2 tablespoons parsley into risotto. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to plates. Sprinkle with remaining tablespoon parsley.