Saturday, February 11, 2012

Faux Pho

Since we finished unpacking late last Sunday evening, this is the first  weekend day we've had to explore Jacksonville. This morning I ventured out early to find the one and only Whole Foods in JAX. It's larger than the ones in Tucson and has features like a gelato and chocolate bar, a juice bar, and a bakery. I also found some crazy new (to me anyway) vegan products from Sophie's Kitchen. I was very curious, so I bought the vegan prawns along with the tahini, miso and tofu that had originally gone there for, although I had no clue what I intended to do with them at the time.

A little later, David and I went in search of an Asian market and found Hung Thinh Supermarket which is way up on the north side of town. While not as huge as LeeLee Oriental Market in Tucson, Hung Thinh had a great selection of Asian foods that we've been missing at the local Publix. Soon, we were picking up vegan "meat balls" and "vegan big meat slices" in addition to cilantro and bean sprouts. From there it was a small jump to making Pho for dinner. We just needed some fresh rice noodles and Thai basil. I've had requests for the recipe, but we really didn't use one, so I'm going to just give some general guidelines here. Traditional pho is made from thin slices of beef and seafood put on top of fresh rice noodles in a large bowl into which boiling hot broth is poured. The broth rapidly cooks the meats and noodles. The dish is usually topped with cilantro, Thai basil, culantro, and mung bean spouts. The main thing to keep in mind with any pho is to make everything thin so it will cook quickly.

First, the broth - we were lucky enough to find some vegetarian pho broth cubes, but if you aren't that lucky, start with some veggie broth and add a star anise (whole) and maybe some garlic to it. You want a good amount of broth. Get it started heating while you're doing all the cutting.

Next, the noodles - fresh rice noodles make the best pho, but if you only have dried ones soak them in water for a few minutes first. If you boil them the way you would regular noodles, you'll end up with mush. If you can't find fresh or dried rice noodles, I think it's OK to use wheat noodles (gasp!), but these WILL need to be cooked to al dente first.  Put the noodles into the pho bowl first.

Then the "meats" - We used a variety of vegan meat alternatives. I'm not opposed to eating these once in a while. They provide a chewy texture that's pretty hard to find in tofu and vegetables. They also increase the variety of foods I eat and allow me to be creative AND eat some comforting foods. Tonight I used some of the vegan prawns, some Gardein beefless tips, and the "Vegan big meat slice" (I do not lie, that's what is on the package. This is the closest I can get to a webpage for it). For the meat slices, I had to rehydrate them in water for 10 minutes. Then I squeezed the water out, sliced them in very thin strips and marinated them in some Sriracha, soy sauce, and Chinese rice vinegar for a few minutes.

We also used some kind of "vegan meat balls" that we found. Honestly, all this ended up being too meaty for me and I left a lot of it in the bowl, so next time I would probably use half the meat alternative or less. I've also made this just using very thinly sliced mushrooms - portobello, shitake, and crimini are really good choices, not to mention much more readily available and less weird.  Be sure to slice them super, super thin. No chunks of mushrooms allowed! Put these uncooked on top of the noodles and spread them out a little.

Add some extra veggies - we used a peeler to make really thin strips of carrot. We also added some very thin strips of green pepper. I think that some shredded spinach or cabbage would be good as well, but we were going for a more traditional look tonight. Add these on top of the "meats" and/or mushrooms.

Garnishes - these are really important, so don't skimp! They make the difference between good pho and great pho. As I said before, we used chopped cilantro, basil leaves, pickled onion, bean sprouts and culantro, but other options include jalapenos, fried garlic, chopped onions and lime wedges. Oh! Almost forgot - we bought some pickled limes today, so we chopped those up and used those as well.These go on a separate plate so that everyone can add to their taste. You may also want to put some hot sauce (Sriracha), soy sauce and/or vegan fish sauce on the table.

OK, now remove the star anise and turn that broth up until it really rolls in the pot. Then carefully ladle it into the bowls and add your garnishes and condiments while you're waiting for everything to heat through. The great thing about vegan phoDig in!

Just for because, I'm adding a little onion pickle recipe I quickly threw together tonight. it probably doesn't even qualify as a pickle since it didn't sit more than half an hour, but it sure was good!

Inez's very simple onion pickle

1 sweet onion, very thinly sliced
1 tsp. sea salt
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar

Salt the sliced onion and then squish it together in your hands until the onions soften. Add the vinegar and let it sit for a while. Idk if this will keep well, so eat it soon! :)

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