Marinating the beef for 4 to 24 hours ahead can save preparation time later and add extra flavor, if desired. Whole star anise imparts a licoricelike aroma and flavor to the broth, but the soup is very good without it.
8 cups water
2 (14 1/4-ounce) cans fat-free beef broth
3 whole star anise (optional)
2 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
1 (1 1/2-inch) piece peeled fresh ginger, sliced
4 ounces uncooked rice stick noodles or vermicelli
1 1/2 pounds boned sirloin steak, thinly sliced
2 1/2 tablespoons minced shallots
2 tablespoons sake (rice wine) or rice vinegar
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
2 cups fresh bean sprouts
1 cup sliced fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup minced fresh cilantro
1/4 cup minced green onions
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon thinly sliced red chile (optional)
6 lime wedges (optional)
How to Make It
Combine first 5 ingredients in a large Dutch oven; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 30 minutes. Strain broth; discard solids. Return broth to pan.
Place rice noodles in a large bowl; cover with hot water. Let stand 15 minutes; drain. Cook noodles in boiling water 1 minute or until tender; drain.
Combine the beef, shallots, sake, and minced ginger in a large zip-top plastic bag; seal and marinate in refrigerator 10 minutes. Add beef mixture to broth in pan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium; cook 3 minutes. Stir in bean sprouts and next 6 ingredients (bean sprouts through black pepper); cook 1 minute.
Place the noodles into each of 6 large bowls; top with broth mixture. Garnish with sliced chile and lime wedges, if desired.