Last night was a damp and rainy night in the neighborhood, and I decided that I wanted a steamy bowl of soup! This noodle bowl is based on Pho noodle bowls, but using ingredients that I had on hand. While I do love going out for a hot bowl of Pho, one of the things that I really enjoy about learning to cook for myself is that I can treat myself to my favorite dishes as homemade meals. If you don’t have all the ingredients for this recipe, or you would like to change it, I encourage you to switch and swap away! The heart of any bowl of Pho is close attention to the broth, where the roasted onion and ginger are essential. Otherwise, you can trade spices for powdered versions, and the soup won’t suffer if you are out of a few of the seasonings. You can also substitute and mushrooms, broccoli, or lotus root into the vegetables, as well as replace the tofu with tempeh. I enjoy this mostly vegetarian version, but if you are interested in a more traditional beef or chicken Pho, Andrea Nguyen is a masterful guide through Vietnamese cuisine.
Serves 2 as a main course.
For the Broth and Soup
- 6 cups beef stock**
- 1 cup snap peas
- 1 cup large carrots, thinly sliced
- 1 large yellow onion, skin left on
- 4″ ginger, skin left on
- 1 package tofu, thinly sliced into long strips
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 2 lemongrass stalks, tender bottoms cut into 1″ pieces and bruised with the butt of your knife
- 1/2 tsp coriander seed
- 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
- 2 cloves
- 1 star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/2 pound small (1/8-inch wide) dried or fresh rice noodles (rice sticks)
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt plus more to taste
Optional Garnishes, Arranged on a Plate for the Table
- Pickled mustard greens
- Fresh Thai basil
- Fresh Cilantro or culantro
- Fresh mint leaves
- Green onion
- Bean sprouts
- Jalepeno or Thai bird’s eye chilies
- Lime juice
- Dash of fish sauce in each bowl (optional)
Dipping Sauces in Small Bowls for the Table:
- Sweet chili garlic paste
- Hoisin sauce
- Soy sauce mixed with oyster sauce at a 1:1 ratio (about 1 tbsp each)
**Cook’s note: If you are vegetarian or vegan, you can easily adapt this dish. Substitute mushroom stock for the beef stock and add in 1 tablespoon of tomato paste to achieve similar umami flavors. You can also omit the fish sauce and oyster sauce, instead mixing a teaspoon of miso paste with the soy sauce for a dipping sauce.
Char onion and ginger. Roast the onion and ginger on broil in your toaster oven or stove for about 15 minutes, turning once, until the skin is slightly blackened. Let coo and remove charred onion skin; trim and discard blackened parts of root or stem ends. If ginger skin is puckered and blistered, smash ginger with flat side of knife to loosen flesh from skin. Otherwise, use sharp paring knife to remove skin, running ginger under warm water to wash off blackened bits. Slice the onion into thin slices. Set both aside.
Add the broth, salt, sugar, onion, and ginger to a large pot and bring to a simmer. Toast the coriander seed and peppercorns for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Repeat with the garlic. Add these to a mortar and pestle or spice grinder and grind into a paste and add to the broth. Combine lemongrass, star anise, cloves, and cinnamon stick in a tea ball, strainer, or bouquet garni and add to the broth. Simmer all together for at least 30 minutes, and up to 1 hour. Taste and adjust flavor with additional salt, fish sauce and yellow rock sugar. The pho broth should taste slightly too strong because the noodles and other ingredients are not salted.
Before you blanch the noodles, add your vegetables to the broth and continue to simmer.
Heat a skillet over medium high heat with the sesame oil. Add the tofu and fry slowly, flipping once, while you blanch the noodles. Don’t be tempted to stir the tofu too much, just let it slowly fry until lightly golden brown.
Blanch the noodles. Fill 3- or 4-quart saucepan with water and bring to boil. For each bowl, use long-handle strainer to blanch a portion of noodles. As soon as noodles have collapsed and lost their stiffness (10-20 seconds), pull strainer from water, letting water drain back into saucepan. Empty noodles into bowls. Noodles should occupy 1/4 to 1/3 of bowl.
Remove the bouquet garni and ginger, then bring the broth to a boil. Ladle broth, vegetables, and tofu equally into each bowl. Serve your pho with the garnish plate, adding the fresh garnishes to the top of your bowl. Dip your vegetables, noodles, and tofu into whatever sauces you like most!