Like most folks these days, we are on a tight, “no extras” budget. So naturally, I am craving restaurant food. Vietnamese, to be exact. My husband ate the last of the giant box of Ramen Noodles that came with him when he moved in – 10 months ago, while I was getting ready for bed last night. He came in and gave me a bite, and as much as I hate to admit it – I wanted to yank it away from him and scarf down the whole thing. I actually felt pangs of yearning when he left the room, taking the bowl with him. I hadn’t eaten that stuff in about 15 years and had forgotten how addictive it can be, (although I laughed at him when he brought them into the house, as though I were above that sort of thing).
So this brought me back to my “can’t-have-it-so-now-I’ve-just-got-to” craving for Vietnamese food – vermicelli dishes, in particular. I decided then and there that I would start learning how to make some of those dishes myself – starting with some Pho. Pho generally has meat in it, but since I don’t like to eat much meat, I thought I’d give a vegetarian version a try first.
We loved this so much, I made it the next 2 nights, and we ate it non-stop until I came down with the flu and lost my appetite for anything much besides tea. Ugh. I’m mostly better now, but still can’t taste so well.
This was the first time I’d ever used, or even seen, star anise. It’s so pretty – like little starfish or flowers, and has a nice fennel-like smell. I was excited about dropping these in the pan with the cinnamon and ginger. Charring ginger is a new concept to me as well, though having to use a pan to do it was a tad anticlimactic, and I wished I had an open flame to work with. Well, you can’t have everything. Plus, it’s not like I don’t have a grill…it just needs a serious cleaning and I haven’t quite worked up the motivation for that. Guess there’s yet another item for the Spring TO DO list at our house…
I do regret the lack of flames in this photo, but there it is – my ginger charring. This soup is so simple to make, it’s perfect for a quick meal on a busy evening; there’s little to do but pour in the stock, throw a few things in, and let it cook.
Funny…I was taking a break from the Vegetarian Times recipes, and the day after making this, I received their version in my inbox. It’s basically the same, but with the addition of rice wine vinegar and a little brown sugar, and instead of making the broth in steps, they just toss everything in at once. I tried it that way too, but my taste buds had already wilted at that point so I couldn’t tell a big difference, although my husband didn’t like it as much. Eh – try it both ways and see what you like.
I added lots of basil and cilantro with bean sprouts, cabbage, sliced fresh jalapenos, scallions and peanuts. I used bok choy in the second batch, which was perfect. A little hot sauce is nice also.
This was the first time I’ve cooked with seitan – (No, not Satan) it’s made from wheat and is not the least bit attractive. It really soaks up the flavor of whatever it’s in though, and adds a great meatiness and lots of protein to the soup – I’m a fan now. I also tried baked tofu, but it wasn’t nearly as good in the pho. ya know?
Just put the noodles in the bowl, add whatever veggies you like, and pour over some broth. That’s IT. Slice up your vegetables on Sunday night and Monday’s dinner is halfway there.
Now, I have to admit, I am very curious to see how different this tastes with meat – I suspect it will taste even more closely to what I get in the restaurants that way. I’m going to have to try both a chicken and beef version. I’ll letcha know how they turn out…as soon as my taste buds return.
Estimated nutritional stats are for a one cup serving of broth over 2 ounces of rice sticks, without the vegetables added. It’s high in sodium, but if you plan ahead, you can easily make it work into a balanced day. Adding the vegetables will give it tons of nutrition. I actually used Braggs instead of soy sauce, and it was just as good with only 1 tablespoon, which brings the sodium way down. Enjoy!