Pho is perhaps the most famous dish to come out of Vietnam.
It consists of a highly flavorful broth, made with aromatics such as ginger, cinnamon, cloves and star anise, which is ladled over very large bowls filled with rice noodles, beef or other meat, and lots of garnishes, including fresh herbs, bean sprouts and lime wedges.
Here in Seattle, pho is looked upon as a remedy for helping get through the darkest, rainy days of winter.
Fortunately for me, Seattle is also very vegetarian-friendly so there are a number of pho restaurants that make vegetarian versions.
While I'm certain that most traditional pho-lovers would scoff at the idea, you really can make a delicious vegetarian pho.
In this recipe, the aromatics are lightly charred for a more intensely flavored broth.
Seitan or tofu replace the beef.
While I've listed my favorite garnishes, feel free to add your own touches - ground peanuts, steamed vegetables and thinly sliced chilies are also commonly served with pho.
Banana Custard with Coconut Cookies
for the broth...
1 small unpeeled onion, quartered
2 unpeeled shallots, halved
8 garlic cloves, halved
a 1-inch piece of ginger, coarsely sliced
two 3-inch cinnamon sticks
2 pods of star anise
8 cups clear vegetable stock
3 tablespoons soy sauce
for the soup ...
1 pound rice noodles
8 ounces seitan or fried tofu, sliced
6 scallions, thinly sliced (both green and white parts)
about 1-1/2 cups bean sprouts
a good handful of basil, mint or cilantro leaves, left whole
1 lime, cut into wedges
sriracha chili paste
To make the broth, heat a large pot over medium-high heat.
Add the onion, shallots, garlic, ginger, cinnamon sticks, star anise, and cloves and dry-roast, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to char.
Add the stock and soy sauce and bring to a boil over high heat.
Turn the heat down to medium-low, cover, and simmer for about 25 minutes.
Strain into a clean pot and discard the solids.
Taste the broth and add salt if necessary.
Keep warm over low heat.
While the broth is simmering, prepare the rice noodles.
Place the noodles in a large bowl.
Pour boiling water over the noodles to cover and soak for 20 minutes.
When you are ready to assemble the soup, add the seitan or tofu to the warm broth and allow to heat through.
Drain the soaked rice noodles and divide evenly among 4 to 6 large bowls.
Using a slotted spoon, scoop the seitan or tofu out of the broth and distribute among the bowls.
Ladle the hot broth over the noodles.
Serve the bowls of pho with the scallions, bean sprouts, herbs, lime wedges, hoisin sauce and chili sauce on a seperate platter so that everyone can season their own soup as they wish.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
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Rice noodles come in a variety of forms.
Rice vermicelli are the thinnest available and are usually reserved for spring rolls or salads.
The rice noodles called for in this recipe are sometimes labeled rice sticks; look for thin or medium sizes (not wide.)
They may also be called stir-fry or Pad Thai noodles.
Seitan is a meat alternative made by extracting the gluten (protein) from wheat.
It has been a staple food among vegetarian monks in China and Southeast Asia for hundreds of years.
These days, you commonly see seitan in prepared vegetarian products including patties and "hotdogs."
You can find seitan in tubs or vacuum packs in either the refrigerator or the freezer section of many natural food stores.
It can be stored in liquid for one week in the refrigerator or frozen for up to a month.