Saturday, December 22, 2018

Rosie Makes Vegetarian Pho For Her Little Vegetarians.

I'm a carnivore of the first degree, but my Little Hawthornelets are not.  Don't know where I went wrong there, but id est, quo id est.  Out of the three of them, I have a vegan, a vegetarian, and a pescatarian.  Actually, I could be a pescatarian myself.  Except for that bacon thing.

So, back to my Hawthornelets.  And what to fix them when all three are together.  It ain't often, but it happens.

I'm going with vegetarian pho.  I'll be starting out making my own vegetable stock and then you can take it from there in whatever directions you want to go.

To be accurate, pho is not vegetarian.  It's bones that have been simmered.  So, I'm offering the next best thing - for vegetarians.  It's got the flavors, just not the meat.  What follows is a sort of history of pho and then my desecration of it in the name of vegetarianism.

I love a good pho.  And pho, by the way, is a Vietnamese soup, pronounced "fuh."  Pho is said to have originated in regions of North Vietnam in the late 1880s after the French colonization.  The word "pho" possibly comes from the French "feu," meaning "fire" and the dish could be an adaptation of the French dish pot au feu.  To create pho (pho bo for beef; pho ga for chicken), marrow-rich bones are simmered, ginger and onion are charred, spices are added, and then the rice noodles hit the pot and the herbs top it off.  It is a dish that is complex in both flavors and textures.  It is both intense and delicate.

As to the history of pho, pho is believed to have come about when Vietnam was under French colonial power and the French, with their beefy appetites, started slaughtering cows.  In Vietnam, cows were traditionally draft animals and were not eaten.  The French carved off the bifteks for themselves, passing leftover beef parts, bones, and scraps to the butchers, who saw an opportunity here.  Enterprising butchers pawned off these unwanted parts to street vendors who made something wonderful with this novelty ingredient.  Tough cuts and bones were thrown into the pot, simmered for hours, and pho became a byproduct of this new butchery.  Since its inception, pho has been reinvented and embellished over and over by street vendors and home cooks with ingredients available to even the poorest people and the ingredients themselves changed as the Vietnamese traveled - across Vietnam itself and then to the United States.  When Vietnam was divided into North and South Vietnam in 1954, over a million northern Vietnamese migrated to the south, fleeing Communist rule.  Northern-style pho (Hanoi) is traditional and conservative, served in modest portions with few garnishes.  Southern-style pho (Saigon) being more liberal and progressive, combined sweet with savory along with more produce.  Environmental differences between the two regions, the south being more agriculturally rich, again influenced pho, with an influx of embellishments such as Chinese rock sugar, fermented beans, bean sprouts, Thai basil, and a host of other add-ons.  Pho then blasted over to the United States in 1975 with the fall of Saigon, where it continues to evolve as an amalgram of cultures.

Pho is a dish shaped by a turbulent history and it carries with it the identity and history of the people that create it.  Pho, although a culture-defining dish, is not a fixed thing, but a mixture of originality and acculturation.

As pho made its way to America, we go from acculturation to adulteration. Even more ingredients made their way to the bowl.  If you go to any American pho restaurant, you will encounter a myriad of options to personalize your pho bowl, most of which were never included in the original pot of pho.  I imagine this display is a reflection of the wealth found in America - luxuries uncommon in Vietnam.  In addition, whenever I've had pho at a restaurant, the offering is not a simple bowl of pho - it's a trough.

That said, Rosie's going to make vegetarian-style pho today, for her little vegetarians.
Yes, I know.  It's a bastardization of the original.  But that's what I do.  And no apologies.

 (Note:  I've made pho bo before, and it's da bomb!  See here for some phoking good pho.)

Gather ye vegetables - celery, onions, carrots.

Give 'em a coarse chop.

Place in a big pot, cover with water, and bring to a simmer.
You'll want to simmer this for 45-60 minutes.

While the vegetables are simmering, grab some cinnamon, cloves, and star anise.

Dry toast the spices.

Next, chop up an onion and some ginger.

Spread the onion and ginger in a pan, stick it in the oven, and let it char.

Add the toasted spices to the pot.

This is yellow rock sugar.

I  have a box I bought from an Asian market up in Chesapeake.  Rock sugar is crystallized sugar, milder than regular granulated sugar.  It's commonly used in Chinese cooking, especially in soups and braised dishes.  It has a more delicate flavor than granular sugar and has flavor notes that white sugar is missing, but you can substitute demerara or raw sugar for rock if you're in a pinch.

I dropped a big chunk of the rock sugar into the pot.

Then I added the charred onion and...

...charred ginger.

Let everything cook at a bare simmer for another thirty minutes or so.
Just so the flavors can mix and mingle.

Your basic vegetarian broth is done now.
All you need to do is tart it up now.

I'm going with tofu here.  The way I fix it, it's darn close to tasting like meat.

First, what you do is slice the tofu evenly, place it on an inclined plate, cover it with plastic wrap,
and put a weight on it.  An iron skillet works just fine.  Mop up any liquid that accumulates.

Here's my "dried up" tofu.

Next you make a marinade for the tofu.

 1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup water
3 TB ketchup
3 TB rice vinegar
2 TB Tamari sauce
1 TB hoisin sauce
1 TB mirin
1 TB Thai style chili sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 1-inch cube frozen ginger root

I always keep frozen ginger on hand.  I like to use ginger juice in marinades and sauces and it's hard to impossible to get juice out of fresh ginger.  I take a cube of frozen, nuke it for about 25 seconds, then squeeze it and the juice flows out.  Next, put the ginger in a garlic press and scrape the pulp off for 2-3 squeezings.

Mix all ingredients.
Cut the tofu into bite-sized pieces.

Place tofu pieces into marinade.  Marinate for at least an hour.

After marinating, drain tofu and toss in cornstarch.

Lightly fry in peanut oil until golden brown.
Drain on paper towels.

Instead of frying, you can just use the marinated tofu as is.  I like to fry it.

Drain vegetable broth and throw away the veggies.  They've served their purpose.
I pour the broth into pint and quart containers and freeze whatever I'm not using,
just so I'll have it on hand for the next time.

Ladle broth into bowls and add accoutrments.

Tofu.  Mushrooms.  Sliced jalapeños.  Lime slices.  Sliced water chestnuts.  Noodles.

If you wanted to throw in some shrimp for the pescatarian, go right ahead.

Throw in some snow peas and sliced scallions.
 Mint and basil and cilantro work quite well.
And if you have some wonton squares, slice 'em up and fry 'em.


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