There are likely folks who will say you cannot have a real Pho with no meat involved at all. And, when those folks make me Pho, I eat it as they made it :) Even when they lie to me and tell me that their balls in their Pho are not testicles when they so obviously are (remember that trip to Rock and Bowl in Springfield, Reneé?). Van Lang's beef ball Pho is at least a bit less frightening, as the balls are sliced.
I'm guessing you understand that I don't have a problem with Pho that has no meat. Here in town, Lulu's Noodle Shop is good, as is Vietnam Cafe over on Rainbow (I am pretty sure their broth is meaty). So, if you don't want to make your own, head to a local joint and see what you get. But don't be surprised if you wind up with a surprise or two in the bowl.
One of the things I love about Vietnamese food (and Thai and Korean food, really) is the way that each bowl or plate is a marriage of contradictions: sweet, savory, hot, cooked, raw, smoky, salty, tart--it's all in there.
Angel's Vegan Pho
Adapted from Cooking Light's Turkey Pho
Serves 4-6 people (how brothy your bowls are is key).
8 cups vegetable stock
3 Tablespoons low sodium soy (Tamari if you're gluten free)
2 Tablespoons of brown sugar
1 3 inch piece of cinnamon stick
Several slices of ginger root (I use a good amount of ginger)
In a tea ball or a muslin tea bag put:
5-6 whole cloves
4 star anise (I have used anise seed and even fennel seed here. The licorice notes are what you want).
Simmer all of that together for about 30 minutes. Taste the broth and adjust seasoning if necessary. Take out the chunky bits (the cinnamon stick, ginger, and tea ball).
Rice noodles are customary. I usually buy wider Pho noodles, but this is what they had where I shopped last. My preferred brand is Three Ladies, but these were good. I don't follow instructions here. Instead, I boil them for about 7 minutes, rather than doing the hot water soak method. I cook 2 ounces per person, and I cook the noodles right before serving. In other words, if there are only two people having a bowl, I cook four ounces, regardless of the fact I have enough broth for more than two folks. Then, noodles are cooked for leftovers. Rice noodles tend to get too soft if you cook, chill and reheat. But, you just do what's best for you.
In addition to the broth and noodles, one other non-negotiable thing for me is charred onions in my Pho. You can grill the char on, but I like to slice the onions in slices and leave them intact, putting them into a scorching hot iron skillet until they are charred on both sides. Once that's done, I move them to my cutting board and slice the rounds in half, separating the strands. I throw them in the mix of whatever stir fried vegetables I'm using in my bowl. The version above has some red, yellow, and green bell pepper strips stir fried with some chopped Napa cabbage with ginger and garlic. In addition, when I reheated my broth and veggies today, I threw in a couple of handfuls of mustard greens.
Anything you like could go in here, including proteins like tofu, seitan, soy curls, or even edamame. Mushrooms are great.
I also like to put my chili paste in the bottom of my bowl, so when I pour the broth in, I get a good mix. I put a little extra soy here, as well.
As important as the heat, though, are the garnishes. Here, we've got thinly sliced cucumber, torn mint and cilantro, and julienned carrot up top. This gets "dressed" liberally with fresh lime juice. You're going to want both chopsticks and spoon here, unless you're with family and can just pick up the bowl.
Every time I make Pho, it's a little different from the last version. Have fun with it by swapping out the vegetables you use.
Angel lives in Camden, Arkansas where she writes stuff and sometimes sends it out to other people to read. She used to grade papers, but not anymore. Check out her main site to see what she's up to lately.