Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Vegetarian Pho

Pho is a Viatnamese noodle soup consisting of a rich clear broth usually made with beef bones or oxtail with charred onion, ginger and spices like cinnamon, star anise, cloves, fennel, peppercorns and cardamom.  The sweet and savory broth is filled out with thin rice noodles and slim cuts of beef and topped with garnishes like Thai basil, cilantro, bean sprouts, scallions, sliced hot chilis, hoisin sauce, lime wedges and sriracha (a chili sauce). 
After indulging in pho several times at Viatnamese restaurants I decided to try making it at home. The challenge was to make it without using any meat in the broth, a task some die hard pho lovers would deem impossible. Meat bones, no doubt add a layer of flavor that is pretty hard to replicate, but after a little tweaking I think I nailed it.  Of course my version is in no-way traditional, adding shiitake mushrooms and bok choy (something you would typically find in miso soup) to give the soup a little more substance.  One thing that I kept in common was the rice noodles (a must) and LOTS of fresh herbs, hoisin and sliced chili peppers which add texture and layers of flavor.

Don't be put off by the long list of ingredients. Many of them are spices that are added to the soup and once you get your broth going, you can cook your noodles and prep your garnishes.

Vegetarian Pho (serves 2 large or 4 small bowls)
Adapted from My New Roots

2 lbs. onions, peeled and rough chopped
4 cloves garlic, sliced
3 inch knob of ginger, sliced thin
8 c. water
1 T. fennel seeds
5 cardamom pods, crushed with the back of a knife
3 star anise
5 whole cloves
1/2 t. coriander seeds
1/2 t. black peppercorn
1 cinnamon stick
1 T. salt
1 T. tamari

thin rice noodles
1 c. sliced shiitake mushrooms
couple large handfuls of baby bok choy

Garnishes: Use what you like and what you've got!

sliced scallions
sliced jalapenos
handful of thai basil leaves
handful of cilantro (leaves and stems)
mung bean sprouts
lime wedges
hoisin sauce

The broth:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the fennel, cardamom, star anise, cloves, coriander, and peppercorns on a sheetpan. Toast in the oven for 3-5 minutes until fragrant. Remove and set aside.
Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook for ten minutes, stirring occasionally until the vegetables start to brown. Add the salt, spices and water, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes. Turn off the heat, add tamari and let sit covered for 15 minutes. Strain the broth into another large pot using a fine mesh strainer, pushing down on the onions and spices with the back of a spoon to squeeze out every last drop.

Meanwhile cook your noodles according to the directions on the package. Drain, rinse under cold water and set aside (Most rice noodles only require a 5-7 minute soak in boiling water).

Slice your shiitakes and bok choy and prep any garnishes that you desire. I like to place all of my garnishes on a large plate so diners can add as much or as little as they eat their soup.

When you are ready to eat place the broth over medium-high heat until it begins to simmer. Add the shiitakes and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the bok choy and turn off the heat (The bok choy just needs to wilt a bit).
To serve, place the desired amount of noodles in each bowl. Top with the broth and add whatever garnishes your heart desires.

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