My favorite Vietnamese restaurant closed recently – the victim of a sagging economy. It was a terrible thing for the friendly owners (who were also the workers), but also for our family. This was the only Vietnamese place in town that made a vegetarian version of the traditional Vietnamese noodle soup, Pho.
After much trial and error (and a number of Google searches), we came up with the respectable substitute pictured here. Loaded with tofu, fresh vegetables, and chopped herb garnishes, this soup fills the stomach and opens the sinuses.
Pho is probably the most recognizable Vietnamese dish and is sometimes called the "national dish of Vietnam." Traditionally, it's a meat-based broth made with aromatic herbs like ginger, lemongrass, anise, and more. The broth is paired with rice noodles, meat, chopped vegetables, and garnished with a variety of toppings, including fresh hot peppers, cilantro, basil, and lime juice.
Purists will tell you that "vegetarian pho" isn't real pho, because traditional pho is made by simmering broth for hours and then serving it over meat and noodles. Well, whatever you call it, this soup is great!
If you're not accustomed to cooking with Asian ingredients, some of the ingredients may be unfamiliar. You should be able to get lemongrass and galangal from your local Asian food store. A great mail order option for herbs and spices of all kinds is Penzey's Spices. Anything I can't grow myself in the herb garden, I order from Penzey's. They aren't cheap, but they buy directly from small local growers around the world. The flavor and quality is exceptional.
4 cups water
1 anise star (whole, not powdered!)
2 cubes vegetarian vegetable broth
½ t dried lemongrass
½ t dried, powdered galangal
3 slices fresh ginger, peeled
1/8 cup Jose Cuervo margarita mix (you can also use fresh lime juice thinned with water, with some sugar added)
¼ cup thinly sliced onion
2-3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 pound extra firm tofu, drained and cut into ½ inch cubes
1. Combine all ingredients except tofu in 2 quart pot and simmer (don't boil!) for 20-30 minutes. This lets the flavors combine.
2. After 15 minutes, add the tofu so it can absorb some of the flavor of the broth.
3. While the broth cooks, chop the vegetables, cook the noodles, and prepare the garnishes.
Vegetables and Toppings
½ cup thinly sliced green bell pepper
½ cup thinly sliced red bell pepper
4-5 white mushrooms, sliced
1 yellow squash, sliced into strips
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced
1-2 heads (depending on size) baby bok choy, washed and chopped
All the garnishes are optional. They add to the flavor, but the soup is good without them as well.
1 fresh jalapeno, thinly sliced
½ fresh lime, cut into wedges
¼ cup fresh chopped cilantro
¼ cup fresh chopped basil
½ cup chopped scallions
Cook 1 pound of rice noodles (the most traditional type for pho) according to the package directions. Our family actually prefers thin Chinese-style noodles or udon. In a pinch, I've used a pound box of thin spaghetti!
Assembling the Pho
1. Arrange the soup bowls, and place a serving of noodles in the bottom of each bowl. Use deep bowls if you have them, rather than the wide, shallow bowls.
2. Place the chopped vegetables on top of the noodles.
3. Pour the hot broth over the noodles and vegetables.
4. Top with garnishes as desired.
The great thing about this recipe is its versatility. You don’t have any baby bok choy? No problem! Substitute cabbage instead, or leave greens out entirely. It's the same story with all the vegetables. Feel free to add or delete according to your preferences or the contents of your refrigerator.
The ingredient list looks daunting at first, but the recipe goes together quickly and tastes wonderful.