Hallelujah! I’ve completed my cookbook. Each sentence has been checked for accuracy twice, and the photos have been completed and uploaded. With your input, we even enlarged “Cookie + Kate” on the cover. On May 16, I can’t wait for you to see it!
I began making plans for my upcoming vacation as soon as I submitted the final draft of my book. In the past six months, I’ve felt emotionally and physically bonded to the book project. Even though writing a book of which I am utterly proud has been rewarding, it has been far too long since I’ve had a break—a genuine, true, mind-clearing break.
On the list I have for this year? Morocco’s yoga retreat (which is already scheduled), Grandma Virginia’s long-awaited trip to Costa Rica, and who knows, maybe Southeast Asia or Iceland for good measure. Is that excessive? “No” is the response I’m looking for. I have a severe case of wanderlust and a strong desire to travel right away, after publishing my cookbook, while I’m still young and carefree.
I’m preparing some exotic meals in my kitchen, including Vietnamese pho, to satisfy my hankering for travel for the time being. The warm scents of ginger, cinnamon, anise, and cloves fill the house as it is hot, comforting, and fresh.
Here, I used organic whole spices from Frontier Co-op. Knowing that they support the local communities where their spices are sourced makes me happy to read their labels while I’m cooking. The star anise was from Vietnam, and the cinnamon sticks and cloves were from Sri Lanka.
Tips for Vegetarian Pho
Traditionally, beef strips are used to make pho, and fish sauce is used to flavor the broth. I replaced the beef in mine with shiitake mushrooms and used tamari (or soy sauce) in place of the fish sauce to make it vegetarian.
A couple of years ago, I tried a vegetarian pho recipe that, thanks to the use of vegetable broth and the absence of meat, was essentially fat-free. As a result, it lacked flavor depth and body. In order to improve the flavor and texture of the mushrooms and to give the soup more depth, I purposefully sautéed them in some oil for this version. Success!
Also worth mentioning is that I made sure the delicate flavors of ginger, star anise, cinnamon, and clove came through by combining vegetable broth and water. As a result, you might want to add some salt again as you continue to cook. (I made the mistake of using an extremely orangey broth for the photos; yours will be clearer in color and flavor.)
Charring your onions and ginger before adding them to the broth will give the broth a stronger flavor; this extra step takes 20 minutes but results in a more traditional-tasting pho (see recipe notes for details).
Also read: The Ultimate Gazpacho
- Two 3-inch Frontier Co-op cinnamon sticks
- 3 Frontier Co-op whole cloves
- 2 Frontier Co-op star anise
- 1 large white onion*, peeled and quartered
- 4-inch piece of fresh ginger*, peeled and halved lengthwise
- 4 cups (32 ounces) vegetable stock or broth
- 4 cups water
- 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium tamari or soy sauce
- 6 ounces (one large handful) rice noodles
- 1 tablespoon avocado oil, mild extra-virgin olive oil or your neutral-flavored oil of choice
- 5 ounces thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms
- Mung bean sprouts
- Sprigs of fresh basil (use Thai basil if you can find it) or cilantro
- Sprigs of fresh mint
- Thinly sliced green onions (mostly green parts)
- Very thinly sliced fresh jalapeño (omit if sensitive to spice)
- Small wedges of lime
- Warm a medium soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the cinnamon sticks, cloves, and star anise and toast until fragrant, stirring occasionally, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the onion, ginger, vegetable stock, water and tamari. Raise the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes to give the flavors time to meld.
- In the meantime, prepare your rice noodles by cooking them according to package directions. Set them aside.
- To prepare the shiitake mushrooms, warm the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the mushrooms and a few dashes of salt. Cook until the mushrooms are tender and lightly browned, about 4 to 6 minutes, then set them aside.
- Once the broth is done cooking, strain out the onions, ginger and spices (this is easiest with a small metal sieve, but you can also strain the mixture through a colander into another large bowl). Season it to taste with extra tamari and/or salt until the flavors of the spices really shine.
- Ladle the broth into bowls, add cooked noodles and mushrooms, and fresh garnishes to your heart’s content (don’t forget the lime!). Serve immediately, with chopsticks and soup spoons.