Saturday, June 18, 2011

Dreaming of Pho

We ate at a lot of different restaurants during our honeymoon. The most memorable meals, for me anyhow, were the vegetarian Pho, the Korean, and a cashew pesto bagel sandwich. Jon loved the Tom Yum soup passionately, but it was too spicy for me. I decided the first meal I would try to re-create at home was the Pho.
I realize summer is not exactly soup season, but I feel Pho should get a special summer soup pass for the exceptionally fragrant, summery herbs. The Pho at Ban Le in Kona, Big Island had a mushroom broth as its base, so I included mushroom broth in mine. Jon said he didn't think the seitan added anything really, but I think its important to have some protein along with all those carbs, to help you feel full. Next time I might try marinated fried tofu instead, because that's what they had at Ban Le and it was good stuff.
Vegetarian Pho

For the Broth:

1 leek (green leafy part only)
1/2 yellow onion, cut into large chunks
1 4" chunk ginger, quartered
3 star anise (gives a mild licorice type flavor, can be omitted if desired)
3 cups mushroom broth (I used Pacific Foods Organic Mushroom Broth)
2 cups water
2 cups vegetarian beef broth (I use better than bouillon's not beef broth)
1-2 tbs soy sauce
1 cinnamon stick
6 cloves

For the soup:

1/2 yellow onion, sliced
1 package seitan
2 TBS Hoison Sauce
2 Large Portabella mushrooms, de stemmed, de ribbed and sliced into 1/4 inch slices
1 pkg rice noodles (8oz) (look for a package that says banh pho, but if you can't find that, pad thai noodles will work)
1-2 serrano chilies, sliced thinly
1 TBS Sugar

Pho condiments
For condiments:
2 cups Cilantro
1/2 cup Thai Basil or Regular Basil
2 cups Bean Sprouts (or if you can't find any as I couldn't, daikon, peeled and sliced thinly with veggie peeler)
1/4-1/2 cup mint
2 limes, cut into wedges
Sriracha Chili Sauce
Hoison Sauce


First, cut the white portion of the leek off, and save in the fridge for another dish. Wash the green tough leaves and place in the pot. Quarter the ginger and add to pot. Add the broths and water, cinnamon stick, cloves, star anise, and the 1/2 yellow onion. Let this boil for about 30-40 minutes while you get the other things ready.
Heat a cast iron pan with a bit of spray canola oil to medium high. Add the 1/2 onion which is sliced, and stir periodically until the onion is soft. Some parts should get a bit black and crispy looking, others a dark brown. If this doesn't happen, up the heat a bit. You want to get some blackened and dark brown bits for flavor, while not burning the whole onion. Drain the package of seitan, and check for any thick pieces. Take the thicker looking pieces and tear them up until they are in line with the majority of pieces which will be pretty thin. Once the onion looks soft all over, and somewhat translucent, reduce heat to medium, and add the portabellas and stir periodically until they are soft. Remove from the pan to a separate bowl, re-spray the pan with oil, and add your seitan. You want to get a slightly charred look to this as well, without burning. It will probably stick some, just use a good spatula every 2-3 minutes to scrape it off and stir it up. Don't stir constantly, you need continuous contact with the pan to get the darkened pieces. Once it looks darker tan, add 2 TBS of hoison sauce and stir to combine. Leave on the heat for another minute or two, then remove to the separate bowl.
Take a large glass or ceramic bowl, add 8 cups of water, and microwave for 8 minutes. Then add the noodles, and microwave for 4 more, stirring the noodles halfway through. Then drain the noodles and rinse under cold water.
Once your broth is ready, you can now use a slotted spoon to remove the onion, star anise, leeks, etc. Add the sliced serranos, drained noodles, seitan, onion and portabella to the broth. Add the sugar, stir well, and 1 TBS of the soy sauce. If it seems to need more salt, add a second TBS of soy sauce.
Now pour yourself a bowl of soup, and add your condiments. You want to add these only to each bowl of soup you serve, not the main bowl, because you don't want your herbs to get very cooked, just only slightly wilted. If you like things spicy, add a bit of Sriracha Chili Sauce. Do this before you squeeze a lime wedge or two into the bowl, because otherwise you can overdo the lime easily. Add lots of cilantro and bean sprouts, and less mint and basil. If your soup needs more flavor, you can add hoison sauce.