Vietnamese food is the new Thai. And the Vietnamese version of the ever-popular Pad Thai would be Pho. Usually made with boiled beef, this recipe is a vegetarian version. It is also my contribution to our January soup challenge.
Step One is making the stock. Stock is actually not too difficult to make, but there are a few important pointers to note. Depending on what the stock for will decide what vegetables and herbs to use. Here’s an idea of what flavors the ingredients will add:
Tomatoes – acidity and color
Mushrooms – meatiness
Carrots, corn, squash peels – sweetness
Potatoes, parmesan cheese rinds – body
Cabbage, celery, broccoli, green beans – earthiness
Onions, garlic – a slight spiciness
-First, use a stockpot. It seems obvious, but best not to assume. The best is a tall, narrow, and heavy-bottomed pot. Dutch overs or wide soup pots are also an option, but avoid aluminum pots.
-Cover over the ingredients completely with 2 extra inches of water. Only add more if water has evaporated below the level of ingredients before they are done cooking. The length of time will depend on how big the pieces are. Smaller chopped pieces = faster cooking.
-Start with cold water and let it come to a boil slowly. Then turn the temperature down as much as possible just enough to keep it simmering. Keeping it on a steady low heat will give it the best flavor. Partially cover the pot keeping the lid on at an angle.
-Add seasonings about a half hour after simmer starts and should be sparse. Don’t over-salt! Leave almost all salting for during your recipe. Keep spices and herbs whole; for example, don’t grind peppercorns.
-You can also find good information on making stock cheaply and how to best store it here.
So what should go into this vegetable stock? Well, since I’m using this for a Vietnamese dish, with ingredients such as cilantro and and rice noodles, I’m going to keep it light, sweet, and earthy.
To make 6 cups of stock you need to:
1. Heat 2 tbsp of vegetable oil in pot on medium heat.
1 1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrots
3 cups celery
1 1/2 cup chopped green beans
2-3 rinsed and crushed eggshells (calcium!)
Extra pieces I threw in (otherwise headed to the trash) were pumpkin seeds, broccoli stems, red pepper.
For this recipe, don’t add any starchy foods because it will cloud the stock and it should stay clear. Sautéing it for a few minutes will deepen the color of the broth.
3. Saute for 3-4 minutes. Cover with cold water, about 6 cups, depending on the shape of your pot.
4. Let it come to a boil and then partially cover with lid and reduce heat to simmer.
5. After 30 minutes add:
2 medium garlic cloves
1/4 tsp peppercorns
1 tsp white pepper
1-2 bay leaves
dash of salt
6. Let simmer for an hour more until the vegetables are completely tender.
7. Strain using a cheese cloth or some some other fine mesh material. Will make about 4-4 1/2 cups stock.
Now on to the Pho…
1. Put in a large pot and bring to a boil:
4 cups vegetable broth
6 cups water
2/3 cup shallots, quartered
8 small to medium garlic cloves
2 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 cup dried shiitake mushrooms (about 6 caps)
12 1/4-inch thick coins of fresh ginger
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
3-5 stems from cilantro and basil (keep leaves for later)
2. Cover with lid and reduce heat to medium low, simmer for one hour. Strain broth and return liquid to pot. Discard solids.
3. Cook 8 oz pkg of rice noodles according to package directions. Drain and rinse under cold water.
4. Divide noodles into 4 large soup bowls. Ladle broth over noodles, and dividing evenly, add:
8 oz pkg Asian flavor baked tofu, thinly sliced
2 cups watercress
1/2 cup sliced green onions
5. Serve on the side, for each person to add individually:
1/4 cup cilantro, leaves plucked from stems
1/2 cup roughly chopped basil leaves
1-2 limes cut into wedges
1 cup soybean sprouts
-I’ve never had Pho with watercress or basil, so toppings are up to your discretion. But I strongly suggest lime and cilantro at the very least.
-I couldn’t find “Asian flavor baked tofu” so I suggest if you’re in the same boat buying firm tofu and then frying it in a pan before adding it your Pho.
-I was nibbling on the garlic after I had cooked my vegetable stock and loved it! So, I’m saving it for later, going to add it into something else. If you’re reluctant to make your own stock because you don’t want to throw out the vegetables, then by all means, don’t. Find another use for them. (I kept the garlic, shiitake mushrooms, and some onion from the Pho broth and I think maybe will puree into a paste to spread on toast.)