I never saw a moor, I never saw the sea; Yet know I how the heather looks, And what a wave must be. I never spoke with God, Nor visited in heaven; Yet certain am I of the spot As if the chart were given. -Emily Dickinson
Pho (pronounced “fuh”) is a Vietnamese noodle soup that is therapeutic to cook, to arrange in your bowl, to slurp, to digest. The Whole Foods cashier was doubtful that anyone could make pho without beef broth, yet I am certain that we could. While not completely authentic, ours is wonderful because it involves a fresh, aromatic broth, barely pan-fried tofu, vermicelli, steamed greens, and lots of fresh herbs. We started our broth simply like this– water, whatever vegetables we had going bad in the fridge, ginger, anise, and garlic. Let this simmer while you prepare your vermicelli.
Place your vermicelli in a bowl, cover with boiling water, and put some kind of lid on. They will soften right there, you don’t have to do anything else.
Choose firm tofu, wrap in a few paper towels to absorb the extra moisture, and throw in a pan with salt, pepper, ginger, and olive oil. Be careful not to fry these ones; just toss them around a bit until they look more or less like this:
Now to steam the greens. Bring a thin layer of water to a boil at the bottom of a saucepan, fill with baby bok choy and broccoli, and clam on the lid for a couple of minutes. Don’t worry– they’ll cook down, and they’ll also turn bright green.
The kitchen smells lovely, and pho is almost ready. Prepare your plate of sriracha, bean sprouts, herbs, and lime to top your bowl. Limes are Shelly’s favorite citrus, so she puts a lot in her bowl.
It’s time to prepare your bowl how you prefer it. Noodles, tofu, greens, broth, condiments and herbs. Believe that you can make this even if you’ve never been to Vietnam, that everything tastes better vegetarian even if you’ve never tasted meat, and that you can smile as you layer ingredient upon ingredient, even if you’re not sure exactly how it will all come together.
Simple Vegan Pho
Broth: feel free to improvise with vegetables– we used the more unsightly/inedible parts of vegetables we had lying around, but they will contribute flavor just as well, and that way you won’t be wasteful either!
6 cups water
1 cup carrots
3 celery stalks
a few strands of scallions
3 garlic cloves
about 2 inches of fresh ginger
1 tsp anise
Put all ingredients in a large stockpot, boil for a minute, then turn heat to low and let simmer for at least 30 minutes.
about half of a 6.75 package of dried rice noodles/rice sticks/vermicelli (for 2 people)
Bring a few cups of water to a boil, and pour directly onto the dried noodles. Cover and let sit for at least 10 minutes.
1 package firm tofu
1 tbsp at the most of olive oil
salt, pepper, ground ginger to taste
Coat a pan with the olive oil and turn heat to medium. Once the pan is warm, add the tofu and seasoning. Gently toss around a few times to coat all sides and cook the tofu thoroughly.
2 heads of baby bok choy (you could use regular, but the baby gives you extra flavor), with leaves separated
1 medium head broccoli, chopped
1 whole scallion, chopped
Bring a thin layer of water at the bottom of a saucepan to a boil, throw in the greens, and let steam for a minute or two, or until bright green. You could use a steamer, but we don’t have one.
Prepare a plate of condiments of your choice– ours included:
fresh basil leaves
fresh cilantro leaves
mung bean sprouts
sriracha chili sauce
and usually hoisin sauce is included, but we ommitted it since it’s not vegetarian.
After preparing these separate ingredients, place a handful of noodles, tofu, and greens to taste in each bowl, and cover with broth, leaving room for condiments. Place the condiment plate on the serving table, and let eaters prepare their bowls as they will.