VEGETARIAN PHO (VIETNAMESE NOODLE SOUP)

There’s a reason why some dishes are considered as “comfort food”. Everyone has their own list and version of comfort food. Some find comfort in a cup of hot tea or coffee after a long hard day. Some stuff their freezers with chocolate bars as a way to revive the day. While some people feel relaxed only after a plateful of greasy-cheesy food and cold beer. I have my own list too. And one of the things in my list is a steaming bowl of the exotic Vegetarian Pho. One long slurp of it, and I can actually feel all my worries just ebbing away… leaving me feeling warm, soothed and comforted.

Some of you may wonder how exactly I turned this conventionally non-vegetarian dish around. Well, traditionally, pho is made by simmering various meats in water for hours. So I made my meatless broth by dry roasting the whole spices like cinnamon, star anise and cloves and then adding vegetable stock, water and veggies to it. Additionally, I flavored the broth with tamari, instead of the conventional fish sauce. You can also use soy sauce. And then I left my broth to simmer on low heat. You have to take your time with this step (no hurries!), in order to properly infuse all the flavors and fragrances of the aromatic spices in the broth.

I sautéed cremini mushrooms to give a bite to it, instead of the typically used beef strips. Sautéing the mushrooms removes any lasting trace of blandness from the dish.

Another integral part of this soup are the rice noodles. Once the broth is ready, it is very essential to add the noodles to it and let them soak in the flavor of the broth.

I wanted my pho to have some protein. What better way than to add some tofu to it! So I rubbed the tofu with some sriracha and tamari and grilled it.

One very important thing to remember is, once the broth is done, do strain it to separate the whole spices and the veggies. There is nothing worse than suddenly biting hard onto a whole spice or getting it stuck in between your teeth – kills both the mood as well as the flavor, am I right? As much as they magically flavor the dish, it is better to remove them after their work is done.

The resulting dish can be described in one simple word: COZY. It’s full of flavors and very light. Not to mention fat-free since I used vegetable stock for the broth.

Finally, just ladle the broth into a deep bowl, add the rest, top it to your liking and enjoy. This dish has the power to soothe you to the very core of your stomach, AND you heart!

The recipe provided serves 4.

Ingredients:

  • 32 oz vegetable stock
  • 4 cups water
  • 3 star anise
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 5 cloves
  • 1 large yellow or white onion, cut in large cubes or quartered
  • 2 carrots, chopped roughly
  • 4-inch piece of ginger, peeled and halved
  • 5 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
  • 3-4 basil stems
  • 3-4 cilantro stems
  • 5 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
  • 5 oz flat rice noodles
  • 6-8 cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 7 oz tofu, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon sriracha
  • 1 cup spring onions, chopped
  • Salt as per taste
  • Lime

Instructions:

  • In a soup pot, dry roast cinnamon sticks, star anise and cloves until fragrant. Add onion, ginger, garlic, carrots, 3-4 stems of basil and cilantro, vegetable stock, water and 4 tablespoons of tamari. Bring this mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat and let it simmer for about 45 minutes to infuse all the flavors in the broth.
  • Meanwhile, boil another pot of water and cook the noodles as per the instructions given on the package.
  • To grill the tofu, preheat the oven at 375 degrees F. On a grilling tray, spread the tofu slices. Drizzle 1 tablespoon tamari and a tablespoon of sriracha. Nicely coat the tofu and grill it for 15 minutes, flipping midway.
  • To prepare the mushrooms, warm a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet and sauté the mushrooms for 5 minutes. Add a pinch of salt to it while sautéing.
  • Once the broth is done cooking, strain it in another large bowl to remove the whole spices and veggies. If required, season the broth with some more tamari until the flavors of the spices really shine.
  • Add the cooked noodles to the broth and let it rest for 15 minutes.
  • Ladle the broth into bowls, and add the tofu and mushrooms. Top it with some carrots, spring onions, fresh basil, cilantro and some lime. If required you can use additional toppings like, jalapeño, fresh mint, moong bean sprouts, cabbage or bok choy.

Enjoy it to your heart’s content!

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