Pho Chay

Jimmy, our friend Lisa, and I went apple picking this weekend! It was a very special adventure, despite the severe cold that I am still getting over. I had enough energy to climb trees, throw apples at Jimmy, and eat an apple cider doughnut, before heading over to The Third Battle of Winchester Battlefield Park for a hike (read: long walk, it wasn't very hilly).

My body needed some TLC after a long day outside in the finally cool fall air, and I'd been craving pho as I am wont to do. I've reverted back to being pescatarian, with the notable exception of tonkotsu ramen with my friend Alice at Sakuramen last week (so much porky goodness, mmm), so I wanted to find a vegetarian recipe. I also don't know where to find beef marrow or knuckle bones around here, so making a non-vegetarian version would've required some extra work.

As I'm sure readers of this blog already know, I prefer to cook at home than eat out. Much of this preference is based on my sad and expensive food adventures in D.C. I usually leave feeling unsatisfied and like I've overpaid for something I could've made better at home. That's not the case with pho; I happily pay for my beef eye round and soft tendon (like butter omg) pho with spicy lemongrass broth at Pho Viet (also Pho 75 at the Court House stop is amaaazing). It's just not budget-friendly or healthy to eat out every time I'm craving it, which is often, even when it's hot as hades here. Hence, my desire to make it at home.

It was the perfect meal to end our Saturday, and I even made a second batch to get me through the next few days.

Some of these ingredients may be hard to find at your local grocery store, but if you live in D.C. I highly recommend Hana Japanese Market on U Street. They have all the sauces, noodles, produce, and spices you need for this recipe. They're also super friendly and sell homemade rice balls! What more could you want?

My first batch of broth wasn't salty enough and needed some soy sauce. I learned my lesson the second time around!

P.S. I hope to start using my camera more again soon. Sorry for the iPhone photos!

Pho Chay
Adapted from Danang Cuisine

For the noodles:

1/2 pound flat rice noodles

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Salt liberally and cook rice noodles according to the package directions. My noodles said 6-8 minutes, so I took them out after 6 so that they would be al dente.

Rinse noodles in cold water to stop the cooking process, and then under hot water to help keep them from sticking. Set aside, then use the same pot to make the broth.

For the broth:

1 apple
1 pear
2 carrots
2 celery stalks (optional; I had some leftover that I wanted to use up)
1 kohlrabi or 1/3 large daikon radish
1 leek (or onion if you can't find leeks)
2 tablespoons salt, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon sugar
3-4 dried shiitake mushrooms
2-3 tablespoons sliced dried chiles

1 large knob ginger, about 2 inches long
3 star anise pods
2 cardamom pods, or 1/4 teaspoon whole cardamom seeds, depending on what you have
2 cinnamon sticks, or 1 large Mexican cinnamon stick, again depending on what you have
1 onion
1 3-inch long piece lemongrass

Chop the apple, pear, carrots, celery if using, kohlrabi/daikon, and leek/onion into large chunks. Combine with 1 gallon (16 cups) water, salt, sugar, dried mushrooms, and dried chiles in the pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the aromatics. Slice the ginger in half lengthwise and do the same to the lemongrass. Peel the onion and cut into fourths, keeping the root intact so the layers stay together. Put the ginger, star anise, cardamom, cinnamon, onion, and lemongrass in a dry pan over medium heat. Remove the aromatics as they become charred and fragrant. If you really want to get a good char and have a gas stove, put the aromatics over the open flame; you can put them directly on the grate, or hold them with tongs.

After you've charred the aromatics, wrap the cardamom and anise in cheesecloth or put in a teabag. Add to the pot with the ginger, cinnamon, onion, and lemongrass, and simmer for another 30 minutes or more. If you have time, I would suggest cooking for another hour.

In the meantime, prepare your bowl. These are the ingredients I like, but feel free to switch them up.

For the bowl:

Fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
Bok choy, sliced
Soft or silken tofu

Thai basil leaves
Bean sprouts
Lemongrass, minced
Chili garlic sauce
Hoisin sauce
Scallions, sliced
Limes, sliced

Saute the mushrooms with sunflower or another neutral oil until crisp and cooked through. I seasoned mine with soy sauce and five spice powder, but do whatever floats your boat. If you like your bok choy cooked through, you can throw it in with the mushrooms as well.

Add the mushrooms, bok choy, tofu, and cooked noodles to your bowl. If you prefer fried tofu, then go for it, but I like the texture and taste of soft or silken tofu. I also pulled some of the now-rehydrated dried shiitake mushrooms from the pot, sliced them up, and put them in the bowl. Ladle over the piping hot broth.

Finish off your bowl with your favorite toppings. I like basil, sprouts, lemongrass, chili garlic sauce, hoisin, scallions, and lime juice. Enjoy!