Pho Noodle Soup with Sizzling Seitan & Bok Choy
Makes 4 huge servings
Pho, that famous Vietnamese noodle soup, is a fragrant glorious bath of a noodle soup that ones forms a brief but meaningful relationship. Eating pho is about making choices: sipping a spoonful of aromatic star-anise infused broth, grabbing rice noodles with chopsticks, nibbling on herbs or in our case, sizzling chewy seitan. Or tofu or bok choy, pho takes readily to the inclusion of pre-cooked proteins and tender greens.
Making pho is best done in stages: make the broth the day before, then making the noodles, seitan and assembling the garnishes can be done on serving day. Or make everything in advance and simply heat the broth and ladle over noodles and toppings for easy weeknight meals. Made like this your pho-making efforts can feed 2 or 3 for several dinners during the week. Don’t let the big ingredient list scare you off: the broth is mostly unattended, and if you want simple care-free pho op for purchased fried tofu and tender vegetables instead of the seitan.
To really enjoy pho, consider investing in the biggest serving bowls you can; one quart wide bowls are ideal. I’ve been known to eat pho out of mixing bowls, but it’s a small price to pay for an homemade vegan pho experience.
Tip: When making the broth, you have two choices regarding straining out the seasoning vegetables. Either throw everything into the pot and strain the soup after it cooks (and cools down), or you can wrap everything in a double layer of cheesecloth and tie the top to create a little pouch. I’m somewhat lazier and opt to just strain the broth with a metal mesh colander, but if you’re a crafty sort you may enjoy fussing with cheesecloth bundles.
Pho brunch: Pho is a breakfast favorite in Vietnam and an exciting alternative to heavier brunch food. Offer a spread of different toppings and noodles and keep the broth hot on the stovetop or in a crockpot for guests to serve and assemble their own pho; it’s my new favorite breakfast on cold, snowy weekend mornings.
- ½ teaspoon whole cloves (about 6)
- 3 star anise
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 2 three inch cinnamon sticks
- 1 teaspoon black or mixed peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 large red onion, sliced into ½ thick rings
- 2 inch thick chunk ginger, cut into 1/4 inch slices
- 3 quarts (12 cups) water
- 6 dried shiitaki mushrooms
- 1 stalk lemongrass, well bruised
- 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 2 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1/3 cup soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or Chinese black vinegar
For the soup:
- 1 recipe marinated, grilled seitan from Seitan Bo Bun, kept warm OR 8 ounce package fried tofu puffs or thinly sliced Basic Baked Tofu
- 1 pound Baby Bok Choy sliced into very thin pieces, ¼ inch or washed, baby spinach leaves
- 1 large carrot or daikon, sliced into matchsticks OR 30 Minute Daikon Star Anise Pickles
- 1 large package rice noodles, either pad thai style or vermicelli, cooked, drained and rinsed with cold water
Toppings per serving:
- 1 cup fresh mung or soy bean sprouts
- 1/2 cup cilantro springs
- 2-3 springs Thai basil
- 2-3 springs mint
- 1 big fat lime wedge
- Asian hot chile sauce as desired
- 1-2 tablespoons fried shallots (see below, optional but tasty)
1. In a cast iron skillet over medium heat toast the cloves, anise, coriander, cinnamon sticks, and peppercorns until fragrant, about 2 minutes; transfer toasted spices to a bowl and set aside. Fry ginger, onions and vegetable oil over high heat for 6 minutes, stirring occasionally until the edges of the onion and ginger are browned. Turn off heat transfer onion and ginger to the bowl with the spices. While the onions are browning, fill a large soup pot with the 3 quarts of water and turn heat to high. Once the onions have been removed from the cast iron pot, scoop out 2 cups of water from the soup pot, pour in the water into the cast iron pot, swirl it around to pick up any remaining roasted onion juices and then return the water back to broth pot. Add the toasted spices, browned onions and ginger to the stock, then add the shiitake mushrooms, lemongrass, brown sugar, tomato paste, and salt. If you prefer put everything except for the brown sugar, tomato paste, and salt into a cheesecloth bundle mentioned in the tip and add to the stock. Cover the pot and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 40 minutes, stirring a few times during the cooking process. When done simmering, turn off the heat and cool for 20 minutes, and then strain out the vegetables using a wire mesh colander. Make sure to press down on the vegetables to remove as much liquid as possible. If you made a cheescloth bundle, remove the bundle and squeeze like crazy to remove all of those flavorful juices. Return the strained broth to the stove and stir in the soy sauce and and vinegar. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, reduce heat to low and cover to keep warm while preparing everything else for the soup. Taste the broth and adjust seasonings with additional soy sauce or salt if desired.
2. While the broth is cooking, prepare the seitan as directed for the Seitan Noodle Salad, cover and keep warm. Now is also a great time to prepare the noodles according to package direction; after cooking the noodles, drain and rinse with cold water and set aside. Arrange the herb and sprout toppings on a large serving dish. Make the fried shallots if using.
3. To assemble a pho, bring the pho broth to a steaming simmer over medium high heat, stirring occasionally. Divide the noodles into the biggest, deepest serving bowls you own; use about 1 heaping cup of noodles per serving. Arrange the sliced bok choy or spinach on top of noodles and ladle on enough hot broth to cover most of the bok choy. Arrange slices of seitan on top of noodles and serve; the super hot broth will lightly cook the veggies, but take care when sipping it! Pho dinners should heap on as much bean sprouts, cilantro, mint, and basil as desired, perhaps some pickled daikon and a sprinkle of fried shallots, then squeeze a lime wedge over the whole thing. Eat with chopsticks and a really big soup spoon, adding chile sauce as needed. Eating pho demands all your attention, but it’s entirely worth it.
A sweet and fatty garnish for noodle soups: heat 2 tablespoons of peanut or vegetable oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in 1/2 cup of very thinly sliced shallot rings; slice the shallots no thicker than 1/8 of an inch. Stir frequently and fry until the shallots are a deep golden brown but be careful not to burn. Transfer to a paper towel line plate to drain and cool and sprinkle with a little bit of salt. Store fried shallots in a tightly covered container in the fridge.
Variation: Tofu Pho
For a simpler pho, substitute purchased fried puffs of soft tofu from the chilled section of any Asian market. Slice puffs into 1/2 inch thick pieces and layer on top of noodles before pouring on the hot broth.