This past week I was able to give the vegetarian pho recipe a real test… not just would I be making it for myself and Huyen, but for Huyen’s mother, her mother’s significant other, and her younger brother. That’s four people who know real, authentic Vietnamese cuisine. Four people that would be more than happy to tell me that my pho wasn’t as good as the pho bo (beef pho) in Vietnam.
I pretty much stuck to the recipe, but asked my mother-in-law for some advice to help give the broth a little bit more of an authentic taste, while keeping it vegan. Here’s what we did:
- She advised using a pho spice packet (available in many Asian grocery stores) with veggie broth instead of the broth recipe listed above (it’s a little easier and has the right balance to give that authentic flavor).
- I added more star anise and ginger for extra flavor. I think it would hard to overdo the flavor in pho broth.
- She roasted a shallot in the toaster and added that to the broth.
- I threw in a few dashes of soy sauce, a couple of bay leaves, and some garlic.
- Near the end, she added some salt.
Of the three or four times I’ve made this recipe, this was by far the best result. Huyen loved it, as did her mom and brother. I was surprised her brother liked it as much as he did, since he’s far from a vegetarian, but he really liked the seitan in place of the beef and ate the whole bowl. When Huyen’s mom’s SO got home from work, I heated up a bowl for him. Even as a hardcore meat-eater and someone who’s eaten authentic Vietnamese food for over 50 years, he was surprised at how good the soup was and finished every last bit of it.
I’ve decided that if I ever open a vegetarian restaurant, a veggie pho adaptation will be one of my signature dishes. I’m going to play with the formula just a bit more and then post the final version here.