Beating the Chills in California with Vegetarian Pho

OK, before the wisecracks begin about “chills” in California, it really has been cold here – so cold that we have had to protect our citrus trees and winter garden from the elements.  Also, in my defense, houses here really aren’t built for cold weather, so when the temperature drops below 0 C (or 32F), you really feel it!

Protecting our fruit trees from the freezing nights
Protecting our fruit trees from the freezing nights

All this cold weather talk led to making pho for dinner tonight.  I’ve made versions of pho in the past, but have never gotten the broth to taste quite as deelish as my favourite local pho joint.  This time, I think I got it (almost – it could have used a bit more salt and a bit more heat – but that’s an easy fix).

I started off by making the broth for the soup by toasting coriander seeds, anise and cinnamon in a pot, and adding in water, along with an onion, carrot and some celery.  I knew I was onto something when the smell of this broth started to spread through the kitchen.

Pho broth
Broth simmering on the stove

While the broth simmered, I sautéed some tofu in a cast iron pan and prepped my veggies.

Carrots, celery and mushrooms
Carrots, celery and mushrooms

We’ve planted bok choy in our winter garden – hopefully it will survive the cold spell. In the meantime, I’ll continue to rely on the farmers market.

Bok choy
Bok choy

My favourite brand of rice noodles is Annie Chun’s (FYI, the noodles are on sale with a 20% coupon right now on Amazon). I boiled these in a pot for about 4 minutes. While the noodles were boiling, I added the veggies to the tofu and lightly sautéed them – you don’t want mushy veggies in your pho, so just sauté them enough so they get a bit of colour.

I placed the noodles in a large bowl, followed by the tofu and veggies and then ladled in the broth. The bowl was topped off with fresh jalapeños, scallions and a lime wedge. I would have added cilantro as well, but I forgot to grab it from the garden while it was still light out.

A steaming bowl of vegetarian pho
A steaming bowl of vegetarian pho

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 small onion, quartered
  • 1 carrot, roughly chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
  • 1 block tofu, cubed
  • 8 mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 carrots, sliced
  • 2 celery stalks, sliced
  • 2 bok choy, trimmed
  • 1 box flat rice noodles (you could also use vermicelli)
  • lime wedges, sliced jalapeño, scallions, cilantro and anything else you’d like for garnish
  1. In a large pot, toast the coriander seeds, cinnamon and star anise on low heat until fragrant. Add the water, onion, carrot and celery. Cover the pot, bring to a boil and then reduce to a low simmer for about 20 minutes.
  2. While the broth is simmering, prep veggies and sauté tofu. I let the tofu sauté in my cast iron pan on fairly low heat – just to get a crispy texture on the outside.
  3. Once the broth is ready, follow the directions on the rice noodles (the Annie Chun noodles recommended boiling for 4 to 5 minutes).  I used the same 4 minutes to add the veggies into the tofu to sauté together – season to taste.
  4. Build your bowl by layering the noodles, tofu and veggies, broth and then top with your favourite garnish.
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