Tuesday, January 11, 2011
We’re in the soup season. I’ve been having some sort of soup at least twice a week for dinner in the past few weeks. Besides udon, soba or Chinese noodle soup, I particularly enjoy pho (phở) or hu tieu (hủ tiếu), which use lots of fresh ingredients such as bean sprouts, scallions, onions, lime/lemon, and herbs like cilantro, mint, and basil (though this one isn’t in season). Switch the herb, change the protein or even add extra condiments and chili sauce, and you’ll have a whole new dish.
Since I’ve featured regular beef pho a couple of times in the past, I challenged myself with a vegan pho this time. Honestly, I’m not sure if I can still call it pho anymore since it no longer looked or tasted like the popular street noodle dish.
Since Japanese and Vietnamese foods are my favorite, it’s no surprise that I often make hybrid dishes. Both uses a lot of fresh ingredients and generally their traditional dishes are pretty simple. But when you look at their common ingredients, their flavor profiles and textures are entirely different from each other. Soy sauce and mirin vs. vinegar and fish sauce. Nori vs. cilantro or mint. Udon or soba (wheat/buck wheat) vs. rice noodles. Miso vs. chili sauce. So if one is not careful about flavor combination, it could potentially end in disaster.
I started making a basic vegan pho soup by looking up Vietnamese cookbooks and some recipes on the internet. After learning about what goes into vegan pho soup base, I picked out some Japanese ingredients to make it more colorful and fun yet also tasty. Instead of the rice noodles, I opted for a whole package of enoki mushrooms. As for my choice of protein, I chose tofu and edamame. I could have used tofu straight from the package, but it would have probably been too light and plain for a dinner soup. Then I sliced the tofu into thin squares and pan-fried them before adding it to the soup. While I had the remaining oil in the pan, I also fried some super thinly sliced shallots for the topping.
It was actually a lot of work for just a soup. (It’s definitely not a 30-min meal.) But it turned out so much better than I had expected that I regretted not making a bigger batch. If you have a vegan friend that you want to impress, I’d say try this. You’d not only make a vegan’s day, but possibly make your non-vegan friends jealous, too!
Ingredients (makes 4 servings):
For the broth:
1/2 onion, chopped into half
1-1/2” cube ginger, chopped into half
3 cloves garlic, peeled, whole
4c vegetable broth
1 pod star anise
1 cinnamon stick (about 3”)
(or you can replace star anise, cloves and cinnamon with 1 tsp Chinese five spices)
1 2/3 Tbsp soy sauce
1/2 Tbsp raw sugar
For the soup & toppings:
1/2 pkg tofu, sliced into 1/4” thick squares
1/2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 pkg enoki, bottom 1-1/2” chopped, washed and loosened.
1/2 c edamame, shelled
1/4 med onion, thinly sliced
1 stalk green onion, chopped
1/2 carrrot, julienned
Fresh mint for garnishing
Heat a large pot and lightly brown onion, ginger and garlic. Add vegetable broth, star anise, cloves, cinnamon stick, soy sauce and raw sugar and simmer over med to med-high for 20-25 min.
While making the broth, pan fry the tofu in canola oil, drain the oil well and set aside. Also fry the thinly sliced shallots, drain the oil and set aside.
Check the flavor of broth, (add salt if necessary,) strain the broth and add enoki mushrooms and edamame. Continue to simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and pour the soup into prepared bowls.
Top each bowl of soup with thinly sliced onions, fried tofu, carrots, green onions, fried shallots and fresh mint. Serve immediately.