If you love aromatic, Asian-style noodle soup that doesn’t lack flavor, then you’re no doubt a fan of pho, a Vietnamese-style creation with variations on how it can be made.
According to the book Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Tour Through Southeast Asiapho (pronounced “fuh”) means noodle, a key ingredient in this soup.
To make pho, those noodles, often made with rice, are prepared once in a large serving bowl and topped with rich broth. Where the variations of pho come in is how that broth is flavored and what other items make their way into the bowl. The latter can include cooked pieces of beef, pork or chicken, seafood, vegetables and garnishes for the soup.
I chose to make a vegetarian version of pho, and its preparation began with simmering and infusing vegetable stock with fragrant, tantalizing, and warming spices, including star anise, cinnamon, and black peppercorns. Star anise is a dried, star-shaped seed pod harvested from a small evergreen tree that has an intense licorice-like flavor. It is sold at some supermarkets and Asian food stores.
Also adding flavor to my broth were things like sliced shallots, ginger, garlic, and umami-rich shiitake mushrooms.
After the broth was simmered with those ingredients and a few others, it was strained. It was then brought back to a boil with fresh sliced shiitake mushrooms added to it along with carrots, baby bok choy and broccoli.
Once the mixture was ready, it was poured over the noodles, creating a very attractive bowl of soup that you could enjoy for lunch or dinner. Before you do, of course, you’ll want to spice up the pho further with the garnishes you serve with it at the table, such as sliced green onion, sliced chiles, and fresh herbs, such as cilantro. You don’t have to use all the garnishes I mentioned in the recipe, just use the ones that appeal to you.
My vegetarian pho serves two, but if you were only feeding one, the second serving can be refrigerated and frozen, to thaw, reheat, and serve at another time.
Rice noodles, boiled, placed in large bowls and topped with rich broth, mushrooms and vegetables, creating a flavorful, meat-free version of pho.
Preparation time: 45 minutes
Cooking time: about 40 minutes
Makes: two portions
4 medium to large shiitake mushrooms (divided)
4 cups vegetable broth (I used Pacific Foods brand)
1 cup of water
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
1 teaspoon of honey
1 cinnamon stick, broken into 3 pieces
2 star anise or 1/2 tsp five spice powder
10 black peppercorns
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
1-inch piece, unpeeled, fresh ginger, sliced very thinly, widthwise
1 large garlic clove, halved and very thinly sliced
10 small broccoli florets
125 grams dry Asian rice noodles (see note 1)
• salt, to taste
1/2 cup grated carrot
1 large baby bok choy, trimmed and chopped
• pho garnishes, to taste, such as whole or coarsely chopped coriander, Thai basil or mint leaves, or a mix of all three; sliced fresh fresno peppers or red Thai peppers or hot Asian chili sauce; sliced green onion; bean sprouts; and/or lime wedges, to squeeze
Remove the stems from the shiitake mushrooms. Place the stems in a medium-sized, tall, not-too-wide pot (my pot was six inches wide and two inches tall).
Thinly slice the mushroom caps and place half of them in the pot with the stems. Set aside the remaining sliced mushrooms.
Add the stock, water, soy sauce, honey, cinnamon stick, star anise (or five-spice powder), peppercorns, shallots, ginger, and garlic to the pot. Place over medium heat and bring to a gentle boil (small bubbles should just break on the surface). Lower the heat if necessary to maintain that gentle simmer. Boil the broth mixture for 25 minutes.
Place a fine sieve over a bowl. Strain stock mixture through strainer and into bowl. Press the bottom of a ladle on the ingredients in the sieve to make sure all the liquid comes out. Measure the liquid in the bowl; you should have about four cups. If you don’t, top it up with water until you do. Pour the strained broth mixture back into the pot you strained it from. Taste and season with salt if necessary, then set aside.
Bring a saucepan with about six inches of water in it to a boil over medium heat. Add the broccoli and cook for one to two minutes, until just cooked through. Remove the broccoli from the water with a slotted spoon, place in a bowl, cool with cold water and drain well. Set the broccoli aside for now.
Add the rice noodles to the boiling water and cook until tender, about a minute. Drain the noodles well and divide them between two large soup bowls.
Add strained stock mixture to saucepan over medium to medium heat. Add the remaining sliced shiitake mushrooms and carrots and bring to a boil. Simmer for two minutes, then add the baby bok choy and broccoli. Simmer for another 30 seconds.
Divide and spoon the broth mixture, mushrooms and vegetables over the noodles in the soup bowls. Serve these bowls of vegetarian pho with your desired garnish at the table.
Note 1: Rice noodles are sold in the Asian food section of supermarkets. In the soup I used the thin, slightly wider style of rice noodles, often referred to as ‘rice stick’. Package sizes vary. If you bought one that contains more noodles than you need here, pack up the leftover noodles for another time.
Note 2: Fresno peppers are a red chili pepper with a mild to medium heat that is similar in size and shape to a jalapeño pepper. You can find them at many supermarkets.
Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section on Wednesdays and Sundays.