Saturday, February 9, 2013

Vegetarian Pho with Fried Tofu

 Hot, spicy pho

We discovered a love for tofu at this strange little bar right by my place that served pizza, tots, Vietnamese sandwiches, and pho. And beer. What an unusual combination, right? And they had things like breakfast pizza which sounded gross (egg on pizza?) but smelled so good. I ordered the pho with tofu one of the first times I went there on a whim and because I'd never had it before and I was hooked. I never ordered anything else at that place.

Eventually, they started running out of pho. I would be impossibly disappointed after getting my heart set on a nice big bowl of hot pho and learn they didn't have any. The bar went through a lot of changes in a few months, and we finally learned it was closing to allow the owner to move on to bigger and better things (you can read about that here). But I never stopped loving the pho.

So I figured... why not make it?

Turns out, however, the ingredient list for authentic pho is way long. To get the broth right you have to simmer a beef bone for hours and add all these spices I don't have. So I gave up and resolved to find another pho spot that wasn't 15 miles away. Then Rich got sick. It started with just a tickle in the throat one night, a very chilly night. Pho was sounding really good, and I'd just discovered pre-packaged pho base at Sprouts. So I figured why not, let's give it a whirl. And it turned out pretty darn good, especially for a first try. My only recommendation is to either get a meat base, add your own spices to a vegetarian broth, or load up on the sriracha. The vegetarian base by itself is a little... lacking.

The steps are actually ridiculously easy, as long as you have a good soup base.

Pho starter base (veggie, beef, or chicken)
Tofu (and olive oil or butter for frying, plus any seasonings)
Rice noodles
Green onions
Bean sprouts
Plum sauce (optional)

So. Yummy.

Chop your veggies. Slice jalapeno and lime, chop some green onions, and pick fresh basil leaves and grab a big handful of sprouts. 

Fry the tofu. I always use olive oil, but I know butter tastes better. Use whatever you like. Or just boil it and don't fry it at all, or do a dry fry with no oil or butter (just keep an eye on it). I like to put a bunch of seasonings on my tofu: chili peppers, black pepper, some garlic salt, and a good amount of sesame seeds.

Cook the rice noodles! Follow whatever the package says, but it's just like cooking any other noodle. Also, simmer the broth in a big pot until nice and hot. You might also want to add the tofu into the broth so it can soak up the flavor (and stay warm), and add in a few more spices if you go the veggie route.

Scoop some rice noodles into a big ol' soup bowl. I did not have the kind of bowls you get at pho restaurants, and I plan on remedying this soon. Add the green onions and cilantro.

Pour the broth and the tofu over the noodles. Let it steep in. Top with the rest of the ingredients!

Shrimp pho is also really good. And I'm sure the beef and other cow parts are delicious as well. But I really dig the tofu.

Total Cost: ~$15 (less if you already have some of the toppings)
Total Time: ~30 minutes (assuming you don't spend 12 hours simmering a beef bone)

Note: In this particular post the photos are partially courtesy of my phone, which, while awesome and pretty decent at playing camera, is no match for Rich's actual camera. So if some of the pics look like cell phone pics, it's 'cause they are.

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