"The Pho Cookbook” (Ten Speed Press), Andrea Nguyen’s new cookbook, promises an in-depth look at Vietnam’s favorite aromatic comfort food – and she delivers the goods with flying colors.
Not only does Nguyen guide readers through the history of this seductive noodle and broth dish, but she also has done her homework by including more than 50 easy-to-adventurous pho recipes.
A lifelong fan of pho, Nguyen provides instruction for home cooks that shows off the dish’s versatility. Consider pho pot stickers; sate chicken, celery and pho noodles; rice paper salad rolls; Hanoi-style beef pho; and vegetarian pho sate fried rice.
Nguyen even devotes a chapter to pho add-ons. Among embellishments she suggests are thinly sliced steak, pan-seared tofu and pho tempeh. Garnishes, sauces and spices also can enliven the pho.
Consider Quick Vegetarian Pho (recipe below). Allow about 40 minutes for prep time.
QUICK VEGETARIAN PHO
1/4 inch section ginger
1 medium-large green onion
1 anise (8 robust points total)
1 1/2 inch cinnamon stick
1 or 2 whole cloves
3 1/2 to 4 cups low-sodium or regular vegetable broth
2 cups water
About 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
5 ounces dried narrow flat rice noodles
4 pieces pan-seared tofu
8 snap peas or slender green beans
2 or 3 fresh shiitake, king trumpet or similar kind of meaty mushroom
2 to 3 teaspoons regular soy sauce
About 1/2 teaspoon organic sugar, or 1 teaspoon maple sugar syrup (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, leafy tops only
Optional extras: Homemade hoisin, chile sauce, sate sauce or garlic vinegar
Peel, then slice, the ginger into 4 or 5 coins. Smack with the flat side of a knife or meat mallet; set aside. Thinly slice the green parts of the green onion to yield 2 to 3 tablespoons; set aside for garnish.
Cut the leftover sections into pinkie-finger lengths, bruise, then add to the ginger.
In a 3- to 4-quart pot, toast the star anise, cinnamon and cloves over medium heat until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add ginger and green onion sections. Stir for about 30 seconds, until aromatic. Slide the pot off heat, wait 15 seconds to slightly cool, then pour in the vegetable broth. Return the pot to the burner, then add the water and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to gently simmer for 30 minutes.
While the broth simmers, soak the rice noodles in hot water until pliable and opaque. Drain, rinse and set aside.
Prepare the tofu. (If you made the tofu in advance, let it warm up to room temperature.) Cut each finished tofu slab into thin slices or 2 large triangles. Set aside.
Cut the snap peas in half lengthwise; or cut the green beans into short lengths. Slice the mushrooms about 1/4 inch thick. Set aside to later poach.
When the broth is done, pour it through a fine-mesh strainer positioned over a 2-quart pot; line the strainer with muslin for super clear broth. Discard the solids. You should have about 4 cups. Season with soy sauce for a strong, salty flavor; if needed, add sugar (or maple syrup) to refine edges.
Bring the strained broth to a boil over medium-high heat. Put the noodles in a noodle strainer or mesh sieve and dunk in the hot broth to heat and soften, 5 to 60 seconds. Lift the noodles from the pot and divide between the 2 bowls. Repeat the dunking with the peas (or beans) and mushrooms to lightly poach in the broth, 30 to 60 seconds, depending on the vegetable; divide between the bowls.
Lower the heat on the broth to keep it hot while you add the tofu (if needed, warm it in the broth), chopped green onion, cilantro and a sprinkling of pepper to the bowls.
Taste and adjust the broth saltiness to your liking one last time. Return the broth to a boil, ladle into the bowls and serve. Enjoy with any extras, if you like.
Journalist Tom Witom, who lives in Elgin, has written extensively for years about food and the food industry. Contact him at email@example.com.