Pho, pronounced 'fuh'...like the sound F makes, is a poplar Vietnamese soup that only made its mark in history about a century ago. It consists of broth, rice noodles, meat and herbs. My husband is a pho-king Pho pho-natic! He was first introduced to it by his Vietnamese business partner and has since developed an addiction that lands him in our local Vietnamese joint at least twice a week. Considering I do not eat a lot of meat, eating food typical of other cultures is more common for me than eating nasty ass greasy cancer causing American food. So, I quickly jumped on the bandwagon headed straight for taste-bud heaven and began learning more about cooking southeast Asian food.
I recently became good friends with a woman who was born in Cambodia and spent her early years there, in Thailand and in the Philippines. She is no stranger to the food of that region and came over to give me some tutorials on authentic southeast Asian cuisine. Using her guidance, I made Pho for the first time for my hubby. Now, I have no idea what the hell the stuff even tastes like because it is always made with oxtail and other disgusting meats....tripe anyone...ick! I made it, he raved and I never even so much as licked the spoon. So, I had to really wing it to attempt to veganize this one. And, not just veganize a dish popular for its odd meat selections that I have never even tasted but also make it without....DUN DUN DUN....MSG.
Yesterday was the day I finally got to taste Pho for the first time. The house smelled DIVINE while it was cooking but my heart was in my stomach when my Pho-natical Pho-loving husband took his first bite. Was it good enough? He is very critical of my food and if he does not like something, he has no qualms about showing his disgust. Especially when it comes to a dish he knows well and eats twice a week from both the restaurant and made by his Vietnamese friends who hold tight to their culture (i.e. food). Needless to say, I was hoping for the best while watching him slurp up his first bite of vegan Pho but expecting a harsh critique and then a lecture about how MSG just belongs in some food (Don't get me started...).
His reaction, "It's good babe! Spot on!"
Whew, I wiped the sweat from my brow and dug in to what would be my first love affair with this delicious soup. As close to authentic as I could possibly make it, behold: VEGAN PHO.
20 cups water
1/4 c tamari (or shoyu or Braggs liquid aminos)
2-3 cups dried shitake mushrooms
3 Not-Beef bouillon cubes
2 Tbsp salt
1/2 Tbsp sugar
1 large onion
1 3" piece ginger root
2 garlic cloves, still in garlic 'paper'
8 whole star anise
5 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
6 cardamom pods
1/2 Tbsp whole coriander seeds
1/2 Tbsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
basil (or thai basil)
chili garlic sauce
Turn oven to Broil.
Put 20 cups of water, tamari, dried mushrooms, bouillon, salt and sugar into a large pot. Turn heat to high.
While that is heating up, cut onion in half and remove onion paper. Half the ginger. Put the onion and ginger halves cut side down onto a cookie sheet with the whole garlic cloves. Broil about 10-15 minutes until they blacken op top.
While that is broiling, heat up a skillet to medium-high heat and toss in your spices. Toast until fragrant, about 8 minutes on med-high heat.
When your onions/ginger/garlic are done, remove them from over and toss the onions and ginger into the pot.
When the spices are toasted, toss them into a bag from from cheesecloth along with the broiled garlic. I was out of cheesecloth and used a nut milk bag for my spices and an S hook to keep it in my pot.
Bring pot to a boil. If a thick foam appears on top, scoop that part off. After the broth comes to a boil, turn heat down to a simmer and simmer 4-5 hours until your liquid is reduced by at least 1/3.
When ready to serve, bring another pot of water to a boil and cook rice noodles according to package.
TO SERVE: Place garnishes on tabletop for all to use. Herbs, jalepenos and bean sprouts on one plate and a dish for each sauce. Place a heap of noodles into the bottom on each serving bowl and top with broth. About 1 to 1 1/2 cups of noodles per bowl fill each bowl with broth.
TO EAT: toss in a handful of bean sprouts and whatever herbs you like. Jalepenos if you like it hot. Then, put a spoonful (or more) of your favorite sauce if you like. Hoisin for sweet and the others for spicy.
*We like the pre-moistened ones from our local Asian store. They require no cooking. Just throw them in hot water for 10 seconds and they are done. If you haven't familiarized yourself with your local Asian store yet, go do it! And no two are alike! We have 2 near us. One owned by Koreans and one owned by Thai. They carry a very different selection of foods each. Go check them out!