Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Vietnamese at home

I love me some pho. There's just something about customizing your soup that really appeals to me. And generally I jam all the usual accompaniments in mine. Basil, mint, cilantro, bean sprouts, lime, hoisin, and sriracha. All of it. The more flavour the better I say. There are several Vietnamese restos around town but none seem to come close to that one amazing bowl of pho etched in my memory. That incredible bowl of pho from a tiny Vietnamese joint in a strip mall in Australia will forever be with me. So, when I'm craving some pho, I tend to prefer to whip up a batch rather than hit up a resto. My version is vegetarian however, gaining all its flavour from a broth of simmering spices. Some day I'll make the real thing but until then here goes. And to make it more of a meal, because according to Brent soup is not a meal, we also made some salad rolls.

Vegetarian Pho 

4 c. veggie stock*
1 small onion, chopped
1 t. olive oil 
2 cloves garlic
2 t. ginger
2 star anise
a few peppercorns (1/2 t.)
3- 4 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 t. rice vinegar
1 T. soy sauce
1 t. honey
1/4 c. each carrots, broccoli, red pepper
1/4 block firm tofu, cubed
rice noodles, enough for 2
bean sprouts, mint, cilantro, basil, lime wedges, sriracha, hoisin sauce

To get started, saute the onion in the olive oil til soft. Add the garlic and ginger and saute a few more minutes. Add the remaining ingredients except the vegetables. Simmer covered for as long as you have, about 30 minutes to an hour. In the last five or so minutes, add the vegetables and rice noodles and cook til the noodles are soft and the vegetables done. Serve with remaining ingredients on the side. Although this soup tastes brilliant on it's own, it's all about the extras. Flavour away. Note: I didn't strain my broth before serving as it was easy to pick out the spices as we ate. If you wish, simply strain the broth before adding the vegetables and noodles.

*A word on stock. I don't know if there are any commercial stocks out there that do not include MSG as an ingredient (or whatever name they use to disguise it and there are many!). It's pretty easy to make your own stock and, in fact, it allows you to get everything out of your produce before composting it. Simply save all of your peelings (I mean everything- garlic skins, onion and carrot peels, broccoli stalks-everything) and, when you have enough, simmer in a big pot of water along with some bay leaves, peppercorns, and salt. You could even use your leftover bones or start off your stock the traditional way by sauteing some carrots, onions, garlic, and celery. Simmer covered for at least an hour and then strain before use.

Salad Rolls 
rice paper wrappers
red pepper

Peanut Sauce 
1/4 c. peanut butter
1-2 t. red curry paste
2 T. coconut milk
1-2 t. honey

For the salad rolls, soak a wrapper in warm water for a few minutes until soft. Working on a cloth, lay down the wrapper and place slices of cucumber, red pepper, and carrots in the center. Cover with spinach, mint, and cilantro. To roll, fold the back over the center, pulling it over the ingredients to tighten. Fold over the edges and roll out. Not only are salad rolls super easy to make, but you can essentially put anything in them. Some common ingredients include cold rice noodles, tofu, shrimp, and bean sprouts. For the peanut sauce, heat all the ingredients, whisking til smooth. Add more coconut milk if you find the sauce too think. But please use this recipe as a guide and make your sauce to taste (because you know I didn't measure mine!).