Faux pho

August 30, 2011 at 9:32 am (East and SE Asia, Other, Seitan, soup, Tofu, unrated, Website / blog)


Derek’s student Scott is always raving about Phở, a vietnamese noodle soup. Since it’s never vegetarian, I’ve never really tried the real thing.  Wikipedia says that  one of the techniques that distinguishes it from other Asian noodle soups is that charred o­nions are added to the broth for color and flavor.  It also says that  the broth is typically made with charred ginger and spices including cinnamon, star anise, black cardamom, coriander seed, fennel seed, and cloves.  The soup is also typically served with lots of fresh garnishes, including scallions, white onions, cilantro, Thai basil, fresh Thai chili peppers, lemon or lime wedges, and bean sprouts.  Some people also add hoisin sauce or chili sauce.  Although traditional Pho is not vegetarian, I found a recipe for it in the Vietnamese Fusion book (by Chat Mingkwan) I borrowed from my mom, and I also found a recipe in a Vegetarian Resource Group article on vegetarian travel in Vietnam.   Oddly, though, the recipe in the Vietnamese Fusion book didn’t include any dried spices in the broth–just ginger and charred shallots.  So I made a mix of the two recipes.  My soup came out okay, but the broth needed a lot more spice.  

The VRG recipe

The unusual spices add layers of flavor to the broth, but it’s important to start out with a very good vegetable stock or the soup will be bland. For a more hearty soup, try adding one 8-ounce package seitan, drained and sliced to the soup.

Put in a large stockpot and bring to a boil over medium heat:

  • 8 cups clear vegetable stock
  • 3 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 8 medium garlic cloves, peeled and chopped coarsely (garlic in Pho?  is that typical?)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • One 1-inch piece of ginger, charred on all sides (I tried this once and I thought that the taste didn’t really come out.  Maybe grate it afterwards?)

Add and reduce the heat to low:

  • Two 3-inch cinnamon sticks
  • 2 pods of star anise
  • 2 large bay leaves

Simmer, partically uncovered, for 20-25 minutes. When broth has been simmering for about 10 minutes, soak

  • 1 pound rice noodles

as follows. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a large pot. Remove from heat, add noodles, and let soak around 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until noodles are pliable and easily separated.

Remove solids from stock with a slotted spoon or strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve. Adjust seasonings, adding salt and pepper if necessary. Return to pot and keep hot.

Drain the noodles and divide them among six bowls. On top of the noodles, place:

  • 1/4 cup bean sprouts
  • 1/2 cup shredded cabbage (such as Napa cabbage)
  • 1/2 cup tender greens, torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2? cup basil leaves, torn
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced (both green and white parts)
  • 3 Tablespoons chopped, roasted, unsalted peanuts (optional)
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges
  • 3 fresh red or green chili peppers, seeded and cut into fine rounds

Ladle the hot broth onto the noodle mixture and serve with a plate of lime wedges, chili rounds, and salt and pepper for individual seasoning.

Other optional ingredients? tofu, crushed chili flakes or dried chilis? mushrooms, barely cooked? fresh mint?

The recipe from Vietnamese Fusion (serves 6)

  • 12 cups water
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 leek, cleaned and chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 daikon radish or other vegetable of your choice, chopped
  • 5 whole shallots
  • 8 pieces thinly sliced ginger
  • 2 cups sliced mushrooms of your choice, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 1/2 cup julienne firm tofu
  • 2 ounces (about 1/4 cup) rock sugar or granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbs. light soy sauce
  • 1 Tbs. bouillon powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbs. vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced shallots
  • 1 pound fresh, medium rice noodles or 1/2 pound dried noodles
  1. Make the broth.  Combine the water, leek, carrot, celery, and daikon in a large stockpot.  Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce the heat to medium.  Skim any foam or impurities off the broth’s surface.
  2. Place the whole shallots on a medium grill or over a gas burner.  Roast, turning occasionally, until lightly charred and blackened on all sides.  Add the shallots and ginger to the broth.
  3. Continue cooking the broth at a gentle boil for 30-45 minutes, or until it is reduced to 3/4 of its original volume.  Strain and discard the solids.
  4. Place the broth over medium heat and add the mushrooms, tofu, sugar, soy sauce, vegetable base, an salt.  Cook for 4-5 minutes, or until the mushrooms are tender.  Adjust the seasonings if needed.  Reheat the broth over high heat before serving with the noodles.
  5. To prepare the noodles and serve the soup, heat a pan over medium heat and pour in the oil.  Add the shallots and fry, stirring frequently, until light brown and crispy.  Do not overcook until they are dark brown or burned, as they will be bitter.  Remove and drain on paper towels.  Set aside.
  6. If using dried noodles, soak them in cold water for 30 minutes and then drain.  To cook the noodles (fresh or dried) bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add the noodles and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until tender.  Drain well.
Accompaniments:
  • 1 cup thinly sliced onions
  • 2 Tbs. thinly sliced green onions, white and green parts
  • 1/2 pound bean sprouts
  • 1 lime, cut until 6 wedges
  • 2 red jalapeno chiles, thinly sliced
  • 6 sprigs sweet basil
  • 6 sprigs cilantro
  • 6 sprigs mint
  • 6 sprigs saw-leaf herb or Vietnamese mint (rau ram)
  • 1 bottle hoisin sauce
  • 1 bottle sriracha sauce
To serve:  portion the cooked noodles equally into 6 large serving bowls.  Top with the sliced onions, green onions, and fried shallots.  Ladle the hot broth, mushrooms, and tofu over the noodles.  Arrange the remaining accompaniments on a plate and place on the table.

My notes:
I didn’t follow the Vietnamese Fusion recipe that well, especially for the broth. I used 12 cups of water but dumped all my odds-and-ends veggies (from the freezer) into the pot, then added some veggies from the fridge that needed to be used up. I also added a stick of cinnamon, one star anise, and maybe 2 inches of ginger, sliced thinly.  My broth turned our pretty well but needed more cinnamon and anise and ginger, and other spices as well. I pan-fried my tofu (1 pound–which was just enough for four people) and added it to the plate in the middle, rather than serving it in the soup.  I didn’t add any soy sauce to the broth, as Rowena said that traditional Pho doesn’t include soy sauce. I think my biggest mistake was not including the roasted shallots.  I just wasn’t sure how to roast them on my electric stove. I did fry up two very big shallots, and serve those with the soup.  Rowena chopped up about one bunch of scallions (the top half only) and added them to the (at that point cool) broth, along with the mushrooms and soaked noodles.  She brought the soup to a boil and then turned it off.  The noodles and mushrooms were both cooked well.  The amount of noodles was about right for six people.  I couldn’t find any rau ram so I bought regular basil and thai basil.  I skipped the thinly sliced onions, but put in way more than 2 Tbs. of green onions. I didn’t add any sugar to the broth etiher.  We definitely had to use both the hoisin sauce and sriracha sauce to make the broth sweet and spicy enough.  I think next time I’ll add a little sugar and also something spicy to the broth. Although not traditional, I also served julienned daikon and carrots as garnishes. I liked the fresh crunch they added.

Surprisingly Derek liked this soup!  He said it was better than the pho he’s had in restaurants.  But then again, he doesn’t like authentic pho.

Update:  I tried making this again the following week.  I added more star anise to the broth but it still didn’t seem that strong.  I added way more ginger–too much I think.  Despite working really hard on my broth I’m not sure it was any better than the previous time.  We didn’t have any basil or julienned carrots and diakon this time, and I missed them.  I did add seitan to the soup though, which was a good addition.  I first sliced it thinly but it was better torn into chunks.  Derek didn’t care for the soup this time.  I’m not sure why.

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1 Comment

  1. captious said,

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