Wednesday, February 20, 2013

"Phở ? Yeah, I can probably make that," says the American girl.

So here's the thing about being a vegetarian and eating at restaurants where the menu is written half in squiggly lines - it's terrifying. Because even if there's no obvious meat in it, there are lots of other hidden things that might be like bacon grease, gelatin, powdered chicken fat (this is in pretty much EVERYTHING and I guarantee you it's not the healthy, pasture-fed, free-range, organic, happy chickens that they are decided can only be sold in the form of POWDER) or, in the case of Phở , beef or chicken broth. 

 I looked it up and there is some Buddhist tradition akin to extreme veganism where not only do they not consume any animal or animal byproduct, they also refrain from eating plants that would die during the harvest (such as root vegetables because the plant cannot survive without a root) and also strong flavors as they are interpreted as morally compromising. Now, I aspire to a certain degree of Buddhism as much as the next girl, but I NEED my sriracha. And Tabasco, salsa, harissa, curry paste, picante, pickled jalapenos straight from the jar... strong spices are my raison d'être. But those monks had their convictions, so they invented something called Phở Chay, "chay" being an approximations of the Vietnamese word "without" as in "without meat". The Vietnamese restaurant near me serves a Phở Chay; it's made with beef broth. 

 There has to be a compromise! Somewhere between "Let's throw in all sorts of pieces of animals!" (seriously, guys, TRIPE?) and "THOSE POOR CARROTS ARE DYYYYYING!" there has to be a bowl of soup both delicious and compassionate. I think this is pretty good. I started with a recipe from the January/February 2008 issue of Vegetarian Times, which you can find here. But I found it to be overly-aromatic, yet simultaneously bland. So I made another broth and mixed it in with the first; better. Still too much cinnamon, but I know for next time.

You might notice that I'm not one of those food bloggers who takes good pictures of food. That's because I have three kids, a full time job, and I cook every meal from scratch, so an iPhone pic is probably the best you're getting here. Plus I was way too busy eating to go get a real camera!

This is before I squirted on like a gallon of Sriracha, obvs.

Vegetarian Phở
Adapted from Vegetarian Times
Serves 6 to 8

For the Broth
  • 1 box (4 cups) of vegetable stock plus 10 cups water
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • ½ cup mushrooms
  • 2 tbs. vegetable oil
  • 10 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 3 tbs. soy sauce
  • 3" piece of ginger, peeled and thickly sliced
  • 1 tbs. brown sugar
  • 2 tbs.white wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 cinnamon stick (I'd break it in half next time)
  • 2 star anise
  • 5–6 fresh basil stems, leaves reserved for soup (Thai basil if you can get it)
  • 5–6 cilantro stems, leaves reserved for soup
  • 1 package rice noodles


1/2 package Firm tofu
bean sprouts
lime wedges
jalapenos, sliced
Thai basil (regular is okay, too)
baby corn
green onion, sliced
shrimp (not vegetarian, but I lured two kids into eating pho with shrimp)


1. Heat oil in a stock pot, then add onion, mushrooms, garlic, ginger, and black pepper. Cook several minutes and then add remaining ingredients, except the noodles. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for at least an hour. 

2. Remove cinnamon stick and anise, then keep hot while preparing the rest.

3. Wrap tofu in paper towels and weigh it down to press out moisture. Toss with soy sauce and allow to sit.

4. Cook noodles according to package directions (just boil them till they're soft). Drain and rinse with cool water. 

5. Heat a small amount of oil (I use cold-pressed sunflower oil with a drop of sesame oil for added flavor) and cook tofu for several minutes per side, stirring often. Remove from heat once tofu has a nice color.

6. To serve, add noodles to bowl first, then ladle broth through a colander or sieve into bowl. Allow each person to add garnishes to taste.

I love all the garnishes but the shrimp. Plus I add LOTS of sriracha, of course!! Very easy, pretty healthy, totally vegetarian,  and a really satisfying way to get full on a cold night. 

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