January in Brooklyn. Approximately a few days after we've moved to New York in the middle of winter, Dave and I had been out all day furniture shopping to fill up our desolate, frigid apartment. To say it was a "cold" night was an understatement, especially being native Californians who've lived in the city of angels, basking in the year-round summer sun. I was feeling under the weather, hungry, and craved something warm, liquid-y, and preferably delicious in my stomach, ASAP. Apparently, our neighborhood in Brooklyn lacked any respectable establishments that served anything close to something resembling al-dente rice noodles in umami-filled broth, topped with crunchy herbs and spices.
Fortunately, we did some heavy Yelp two-thumb pounding exercises and found a place on Yelp that actually served pho in the wee hours. To our surprise, the most popular dish there was a vegetarian pho with broth made from, guess what, actual vegetables. Usually when you ask for vegetarian pho at most Vietnamese noodle house's (Pho "Add Number Here"), the kitchen whips up the same beef-based broth without the steak slices, tendon, and tripe, topped with broccoli and carrots.
We hopped out of our Zipcar and ordered two steaming bowls, which were indeed deeply satisfying. On our way out, we found the unassuming chef and owner hanging in front of his modest hole-in-the-wall restaurant. We mentioned how it was our first time eating vegetarian pho and how surprisingly tasty it was. He nonchalantly shared the seemingly not-so-secret ingredient he uses as the sweetener in the soup base. "Apple pear cores", he said with a genuine excitement in his voice. Fruit in pho was an epiphany.
That was a pivotal moment for us, changing the way we thought about vegetarian cooking and how inventive it could be when thinking about the many possibilities in recreating familiar flavors. Maybe it will never taste exactly like grandmother's, but at least if we strive to recreate traditional family recipes, it will inherently maintain the authenticity that typically lacks in uninspired, vegetarian cooking.
Serving Size: 6
- 4 quarts water
- 5 pieces star anise
- 1 piece cinnamon bark
- 2 pieces fructus amomi tsaoko (chinese herb) or cloves or five spice
- 2 daikon radishes
- 1 piece ginger
- 2 onion
- 1/2 pound of shiitake mushrooms
- 4 green onion stems
- 1/2 tablespoon salt
- 3/4 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1/2 tablespoon mushroom seasoning
- 1 tablespoon five spice powder
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Culantro (Seasonal herb) or Cilantro
- Thai basil
- 2 lemons
- 2 jalapeños
- 1/4 pound bean sprouts
- Green onions
- 1 oz dried vegetarian meat (optional)
- Imitation meat beef chuck or tofu (optional)
- 1 pound fresh rice noodles
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- Boil water in a pot.
- Peel and cut daikon radishes.
- Wash spices (star anise, cinnamon bark, and cloves), break into pieces with mortar, and place in spice ball herb infuser.
- Place infuser inside pot of boiling water.
- Place radish in pot of water.
- Peel and slice onion in 4 large pieces.
- Slice ginger into 4 pieces.
- Cook onion and ginger on medium size nonstick pan on high heat and cook for 3-5 minutes until slightly charred.
- Place slightly charred onion and ginger pieces into stock, cover pot with lid, and simmer on medium heat for 45 minutes .
- Add salt, brown sugar, and mushroom seasoning to the stock.
- Place shiitake mushrooms in broth to cook.
- While stock is boiling cut stems off of shiitake mushrooms and save for other Karmic Kravings recipes. When storing mushroom stems keep in a open bag to allow the
- Wash mushrooms tops and cut in half.
- Cut 2 inch section of the bottom of the green onion and julienne cut. Dice the rest of the green onion in 1cm pieces.
- Slice vegetarian meat into bite size pieces.
- Slice jalapeños diagonally into 1/2 in pieces.
- Cut lemons.
- Soak dried vegetarian meat (optional) or tofu (optional and does not need to be washed) and place in a clean pot with five spice, 1 cup of water and soy sauce, sugar, and boil. Once it starts to boil place on simmer for 5 minutes.
- Remove vegetarian meat (optional) or tofu (optional) and place remaining sauce in broth.
- Simmer broth and cover pot with lid.
- Separate noodles by hand and tie individually.
- Boil water in a pot and place noodles in for 20 seconds to cook.
- Place noodles in a bowl and add vegetable oil on top of noodles.
- Vegetarian meat or tofu
- Green onions
- Bean sprouts
- Vietnames herb
- Lemon (squeeze)
- Enjoy and slurp!