Saturday, September 28, 2013

Spicy Vegetarian Pho Recipe

I love Pho. I do. As a child, my mom used to bring me to an occasional lecture at University of Texas at Dallas (she taught grad school marketing) and on the way home we’d always go to Pho Huy. Even then, I was a picky eater, and she’d give them Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally-esque directions to the waiters so they’d make something I would eat. Eventually, they memorized it. Eventually, vegetarian pho became a thing. 

This recipe takes awhile to make. Sorry. I’m going to be up front about this. If you want something that is quick, easy, healthy and tasty, look elsewhere. This takes time. And it’s one of those recipes that actually gets shittier if you don’t take your time, because the flavors don’t set into the broth enough.

This recipe is different from many pho recipes I've found for a few reasons. I use more garlic, onions and ginger. I also add the peppers, which gives is a kick. I also cook the vegetables in the soup on the stove, which I suppose you could avoid by blanching them beforehand, but I already use two pots, and I didn't feel like using another. However, if you do blanche them, cut out step 2 and add all that into step 3. 


FOR STEP 1: the broth

½ of a large onion (any kind will do).
8 garlic cloves, halved
several slices of ginger (just hack away at a frozen piece of it with a knife. Whatever you can slice off in 30 seconds will be enough)
1 cinnamon stick
2 pods of star anice
6 cloves
1 poblano pepper, cut into chunks
1 jalapeno pepper, de-seeded, cut into chunks.
soy sauce (a couple tablespoons will do)
32 oz of vegetable stock (I use two boxes from Whole Foods. Sometimes I switch brands and the amount of ounces changes. It’s not a huge deal).

Sidenote: Use gloves when dealing with the jalapeno. I wish my mom had told me that sooner, before I couldn’t take out my contacts for 2 days because my hands still stung my eyes.

FOR STEP 2: COOKING inside the soup:

8 ounces of tofu, sliced thinly and pan-fried in as little oil as possible
1.5 cups edamame

vegetables: choose up to 3 cups of the following, in any combination:
onion, sliced thin
snow peas
broccoli, sliced thin
carrots, sliced thin
zucchini, sliced thin
yellow squash, sliced thin


hoisin sauce
limes, sliced into wedges
sririacha chili paste
beans sprouts
cilantro or basil


STEP 1: 

1.     Put onion, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, poblano and jalapeno in a big pot. Spray the bottom with a tiny bit of olive oil spray (so cleaning this pan isn’t a stage 5 nightmare), but for the most part, dry roast them on high heat until they start to char. Stir frequently. Be prepared. You will cough. Your eyes will tear. This happens when onion, jalapeno, and poblano have an orgy at high heat on your stove. Your roommates may yell at you, or pretend they spontaneously came down with a chest cold to explain their sudden coughing. Let them get away with it. They’ll probably enjoy the soup later.
2.     When you can’t take it anymore/the veggies are charred, add the broth and soy sauce and bring to a boil again. Once it’s boiling, turn it down and let it simmer for 25 minutes. I recommend watching an episode of New Girl on Netflix, because it’s the perfect amount of time.

3.     If you’re using tofu, now is a good time to pan fry it. You can do this with regular tofu, tofu you’ve pressed for 24 hours, or tofu you’ve pressed in a half-assed way by wrapping it in cloth and stacking your knife block on top of it for an hour. Slice it. Spray the pan. Go nuts until it turns a nice, golden color and gets crispy on the outsides. Then slice it into tiny strips and place it aside.

4.     Taste it. If you feel like the flavors haven’t sunk into the broth enough, let it simmer for longer. If it’s too spicy, add more broth and let it go for another 10 minutes. Your call.

5.     Put a strainer over another pot and pour the soup into it. You’re done with all those mushy vegetables, but I recommend eating some of the onions if you’re hungry/impatient.


6.     Put the strained soup back onto the stove. Turn the heat on low. Toss in all the ingredients for step 2: whatever vegetables you’re using and your choice of protein. Let simmer for 10 minutes or so, depending on how much you want the vegetables to cook. The purpose is to let the flavorful broth cook the vegetables.

: When I get Pho in a Vietnamese restaurant, they don’t do this. They just give you the veggies, which appear lightly cooked if cooked at all, and then when I put them in the soup they magically cook. Somehow, when I do it this way at home, the veggies are way too crunchy and it’s weird. My preference is to cook them for awhile, just to let them soften slightly. They won’t be as soft as the veggies you used to flavor the soup.


7.     Add cilantro or basil (not both, just pick one), sprouts, and thin noodles if you want to. I didn’t really include them in this recipe because I’m very carb sensitive, but if you want to, cook them while the soup is simmering during step 2, drain, and toss them in now. Use anything but regular noodles… rice noodles, buckwheat noodles, pad thai noodles, whatever. Regular noodles might work if you get angel hair actually.. But once I used spaghetti and it was extremely awkward.

8.     Squeeze at least one lime’s worth of juice in there. If you want, toss a tablespoon of hoisin sauce. I included the sriracha because you get it with pho at restaurants, but I find I don’t need the spice since I use the jalapeno and poblano to flavor the broth. Your call.

9.     Let it cool, then dig in.

Final Sidenote: You can adapt this recipe in so many ways. I just made it with zucchini, edamame, and onions as vegetables because I literally had nothing else on hand. I also couldn’t find my star anise, and I was out of hoisin sauce (though at this point I should just start buying it from Costco). I also didn’t have bean sprouts, because those require forethought and I thought of this soup when I was already in pajamas (at 5 p.m. don’t judge) and wasn’t about to dig out my car keys. I missed them, but otherwise it was fine.

PICTURES TO COME! My phone is acting weird. :( 

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