Vegetarian Pho (Pho Chay)
I made some beef pho again today -check out the new photo, I've just updated the post- and I felt like making a phở chay, vegetarian rice noodle soup for the rest of the family. The only extra work for pho chay, in addition to the beef pho (for the carnivores at home) is to fry some silken tofu and make the vegetarian broth.
Lulu, my husand, has been begging me to find Vegemite. I finally found some. It brings back good ol' memories from my trips to England as a child. Believe me, it tastes no different than Marmite. Vegemite is a combination of yeast byproduct and vegetable flavorings, and if you've never had it, it sort of has the taste of beef boullion cubes. Vegemite is not only great as a spread on a piece of bread, but can be a tasty addition to vegetable broth. Though not traditional, I used a bit in my pho broth to give it a more complex flavor.
Yields: 61 quart water
1 can low sodium vegetable broth, (14 oz)
1 small yellow onion, peeled
1 chunk fresh ginger, about 3 inches
2 tsp cloves
1 stick cinnamon
4 green cardamom pods
1 black cardamom pod
2 Tbs star anise seeds
1 chunk daikon, peeled
1 carrot, peeled
1 shallot, finely sliced
3 Tbs Vegemite
3 pieces Asian rock sugar
1 tsp mushroom powder
1 Tbs salt
1 Tbs soy sauce
2 pinch MSG, optional
2 tsp garlic, finely minced
8 fresh bok choy, quartered, lengthwise
1 cup fresh shitake mushrooms, sliced
1 pack silken tofu
2 Tbs all-purpose flour
1/4 cup canola oil, or more as needed
1 drizzle toasted sesame oil
1 pack rice noodles
1 cup bean sprouts
6 sprigs Thai basil
6 sprigs Vietnamese mint
3 Tbs fresh cilantro
2 limes, cut into wedges
2 fresh green jalapeno peppers, sliced
4 red Thai bird chiles
5 Tbs hoisin sauce, as needed
5 Tbs chili garlic sauce, or Sriracha
1 small white onion (milder in flavor), paper-thinly sliced
2 green onions, finely sliced
For the vegetarian broth:
In a deep saucepan, heat the canola oil. Add the shallot, then cook for about 5 minutes until golden. Transfer the shallot to a plate. In the shallot-flavored oil, add the garlic and stir until it is slightly golden. Add the shitake mushrooms, then saute the mushrooms for about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer to the same plate. Set aside. Drain the oil. Keep the oil aside though for the silken tofu later.
In a giant spice strainer, combine the cinnamon, star anise, cloves and both kinds of cardamoms. Set aside.
Char the onion and ginger. Wash the whole unpeeled ginger, pat dry. Peel the whole onion without cutting the stem to make sure the onion doesn't fall apart in the broth. Place a grill on your stove, then char all the skin of the ginger and onion. Wrap them in aluminum foil. Let cool for about 10 minutes. Wash the ginger and onion under running tap water; the blackened skin will come right off. Bruise the ginger using a hammer to loosen the flesh and help release all its flavor.
Fill a pot with the vegetable broth and water. Place the whole daikon, carrot, the strainer of spices and the charred ginger and onion in the pot. Bring the liquid to a boil. Then lower the heat to a bubbly simmer. Cook for about 30-45 minutes. Regularly skim the impurities rising to the surface of the broth using a fine mesh strainer. Add salt, mushroom powder, sugar and MSG if you choose to. Cook for another 30 minutes. Remove the daikon and carrot from the broth. Slice the vegetables and place them back in the broth.
Add the soy sauce, caramelized shallot, bok choy and shitake mushrooms. Finish with a litte drizzle of toasted sesame oil. The vegetarian broth is ready. Get the rest of the pho chay preparation ready...
For the rice noodles:
Soak the dry rice noodles in a big bucket filled with cold water for 45 minutes. Drain the water using a colander. Set aside until the vegetable broth is ready.
When you're ready to serve, fill a medium size pan with about 2 quarts of water. Bring to a boil. Then place deep size bouillon strainer and add about 1 cup of the rice noodles. Wait for the water to come back to a boil (about 1-2 minutes) then cook for about 30-45 more seconds. Lift the strainer, drain the liquid and transfer the noodles to a serving bowl. Repeat for each individual bowl.
For the fried silken tofu:
Drain the liquid from the package of the tofu. Pat dry the tofu with a paper towel. Slice the tofu in two, horizontally. Gently cut the tofu into big 2-inch square cubes. Silken tofu is very delicate and easily breakable. Separate each cubes using a spatula onto a plate. Sprinkle some flour using a fine mesh strainer and coat one side of the tofu.
Fill up the a large pan with the shallot-infused oil. You should be able to get about a 1 inch deep layer of oil. Heat the oil for about 2 minutes. The key to a good fried tofu is to get little bubbles when the tofu is in contact with the oil. Don't overheat the oil otherwise the tofu will get too golden and chewy. Just stick to the slighlty jumping bubbles. Place the tofu cubes one piece at a time (flour side down), make sure the tofu pieces don't touch each other. Cook for about 2-3 minutes until golden. Sprinkle another layer of flour over the other side of the tofu. Then gently flip the tofu cubes. Cook until golden. Remove from the heat. Transfer to a plate. Set aside.
Be organized. Line up the 6 large bowls. Place a little chopped white onion, some green onions, bean sprouts and cilantro in each bowl. Add the boiled drained rice noodles. Pour boiling broth with some vegetables you have prepared. Top with fried tofu.
Serve with chili garlic sauce and hoisin sauce, Thai basil, mint, jalapeno peppers and the bird chiles. Squeeze out some lime juice in the vegetarian broth to finish.
Call your veggie gang as soon as each bowl is ready, then dig in!
I added Vegemite to add extra flavor to the broth. Vegemite is a yeast extract with a vegetable flavoring, it has a meaty taste, kind of like beef bouillon.
I prefer using the dry banh pho rice noodles. I buy the Ba Co Gai (Three Ladies) brand for the Banh Pho rice noodle. I always pick the small size flat rice noodles. You can also use the medium sized noodles. I think it's the best dry rice noodle in the market. You can find this brand in Asian stores.
The key to a good pho is a good clear fragrant broth. If at the end of the meal, you see empty bowls and no broth left, it means that you successfully made an excellent pho. It's very important to get rid of the scummy foam that rises to the surface of the broth as it cooks. Also to ensure a clear broth, if the broth is too salty, only add boiling water, NO cold water. I usually have a kettle of boiling water on the side.
The soy sauce brings saltiness to the dish and a nice amber brown color to the broth. My favorite soy sauce is the Da Bo De brand. It has a very nice flavor and is not too salty. You can find this particular sauce in downtown San Jose, like at Dai Thanh Asian market on 420 S 2nd St, in San Jose. Well, it's not the prettiest. Don't expect to enter an Asian version of Whole Food, but it has all the fresh Vietnamese produce at a very reasonable price. This is one of the best "ethnic" grocery store in the area.
The flatter the onion is, the sweeter it is. I always try to pick flatter-shaped yellow onions at the market.
Mushroom seasoning salt brings a very distinct earthy flavor to the sauce. You can get it at any gourmet specialy store or in most Korean stores. I get mine at Marina Foods -10122 Bandley Drive -Cupertino, CA 95014. They also have a great food-court. I love their Chinese duck.
Daikon (củ cải trắng in Vietnamese) is an Asian turnip that looks like a large white carrot. I use this root a lot for making broth. Discard the root when the broth is ready. It's also delicious when it's pickled with carrots and commonly used in Vietnamese bánh mì sandwiches.
Silken tofu can be found in any store now but I prefer the one from the Korean store. I find its texture to be creamier. Make sure you check for silken tofu and not firm on the package.
I love bean sprouts, it add some crunchiness to the dish.
Vietnamese mint has a very different flavor than the regular mint. It also has darker vein marking on the leaves. It's commonly used in Asian salad like the Vietnamese chicken salad and also springrolls (gỏi cuốn in Vietnamese).
Check out my recipe for chili garlic sauce, tướng ớt in Vietnamese. It's ultra easy, all you need is super fiery spicy deep red chiles.
I am not a big fan of msg (monosodium glutamate), some like to add it to their broth. I don't.
If you have vegetable broth left over. Place the broth in containers and store in the freezer. You can keep this up to 6 months.
Published By: on April 29, 2009.