Packed with flavor, this Vietnamese staple is so yummy you won’t even believe how healthy it is!
Every year for lent, I give up sweets. I mean ALL sweets, including sugar in my coffee. Including artificial sweeteners. Including chewing gum. I go all out in this self-imposed sweet deprivation and I never, ever cheat. I steadfastly resist my cravings until the bitter end, 12:01am Easter day, when I celebrate by eating an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s by myself, directly from the carton.
This year, I decided to try something completely different, and Jairus decided to join me for the sake of health and willpower-testing. We, for the next five weeks, are going to be SOBER VEGANS. That’s right. We live in the heart of Virginia wine country and won’t be able to drink a sip. Of course, the vegan part won’t be all that difficult for me since I’m already a vegetarian, though I certainly will miss my cheese. But poor Jairus is going from being a carnivore to vegan with no intermediary step. Cold turkey! We purged our fridge of all things dairy and replaced it all with fruits, vegetables, vegan sausage, Earth Balance butter and vegenaise.
Last night, for our first vegan dinner together, I decided to make one of my favorite dishes: Vietnamese Pho. Pho is a traditional Vietnamese soup that is great on a cold day. It is comprised of a simple, delicate yet flavorful broth, rice noodles and lots of vegetables. Usually pho is made with chicken or fish stock; I, of course adapted this recipe to make it vegan.
For the Broth:
In a medium to large pot, using a small amount of olive oil, sautee 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 chopped yellow onion, 1 chopped celery stalk and about 2 “thumbs” of minced fresh ginger. Add salt and pepper to taste. Fill the pot about 3/4 full with water. Add one vegetarian bouillon cube and 3 bay leaves. Bring to a boil, stirring to ensure that the bouillon cube disintegrates. Reduce heat and set aside. After about 30 minutes, or once your broth is flavored to your liking, remove the solids from the broth by pouring it through a sifter into a different pot or bowl. Discard the solids and keep the broth on low heat on the stove so that it will be waiting when you are ready to assemble the pho!
For the “Fixins”:
Tofu: Heat about 1-2 Tbsp oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Cube up some tofu and pat it dry. When pan is hot, toss in tofu. Allow the tofu cubes to sear before flipping them over. Add salt and pepper to taste, as well as a drop or two of sesame oil, if desired. Once cubes are seared and crispy golden brown on all sides, remove from pan and set aside.
Shitake Mushrooms: In the same pan that you used to sear the tofu, add 2 Tbsp Earth Balance (or regular) butter. Toss in the chopped shitakes. I recommend removing the tough stems from this variety of mushroom. Also, don’t chop them too small. They are too beautiful and delicate to be chopped into oblivion. I just halved mine. Sautee the mushrooms in the butter, adding salt and pepper to taste. When they are golden brown and fragrant, remove from pan and set aside.
Vegetables: You can really get creative here and use any vegetables you like. I used onions, carrots, celery, snow peas and baby bok choy. Rinse out the pan that you sautéed the tofu and mushrooms in. Add a small amount of water and steam your vegetables lightly with a tight fitting lid. You don’t want your veggies to be soggy, just barely steamed. Steam the carrots and celery first, since they take longer, than add the onion and snow peas, and finally, the baby bok choy. The steaming should only take about 5 minutes total.
Garnish: Chop up a small handful of fresh cilantro and a large handful of fresh scallions. Cut a lime in half. Set aside.
When you are ready to eat, turn the heat up to medium-low on your broth. Toss in your rice noodles and scallions and cook for one minute. Add your vegetables. For plating, choose a deep bowl that can accommodate lots of broth. Use tongs to grab the noodles out of the pot and place in the bowl, as well as the veggies. Use a ladle to serve up plenty of broth. Then, place a handful of shitakes and a handful of your crispy tofu on top. Sprinkle some of the chopped cilantro and the lime. Squeeze some of the lime into your broth and enjoy!
Voila! Your vegan meal is complete.