I absolutely love food, every aspect of it. I love reading about it, I love cooking, and I love eating in restaurants. Hushed and rarefied temples to fine dining? Hell yeah! Slutty takeaway grub, pawed at while I’m stumbling along the pavement on the way home bladdered? Tres Je’taime. I love that too…. I love it. I love it all.
And that’s the problem readers…I have too much love to give, far, far…. far too much. Often when I’m left feeling particularly bloated and corpulent after yet another week of loving excess, my thoughts turn to simpler, healthier pleasures.
It’s at these times I change into asymmetric natural robes of my own design that are soft, feather light and flow around my body like silk. I then spend hours in silent contemplation. Afterwards I like to exercise on a bamboo mat in the living room in my own freeform version of Tai Chi (involving lots of forward and backward rolls, slow motion ‘voguing’ with some particularly emotional mime action, all conducted to a custom soundtrack of wind chimes and monkey mating noises)*
As you can probably imagine, getting myself all Zen is extremely tiring and leaves a fella feeling particularly ravenous and sharp-set. What then could be more healthy and filling than a bowl of gorgeous Vietnamese noodle soup, pho?
I adore pho, particularly with slices of beef in it, but as ‘E’ is a pescetarian and…
A) It’s felt like too much like hard work to make a meaty version AND a non-meaty version
B) A non-meat version has to be healthier right? And the whole point is I’m trying to eat healthy here.
I set about throwing together a veggie pho.
I found a recipe online, and bastardised it a bit. The results were bloody good. Admittedly it’s probably not religiously authentic. I wouldn’t really know. I haven’t been to Vietnam. My only experience of eating pho is in the Vietnamese restaurants that line Kingsland Rd in London and in the eponymously named ‘Pho’, the small and rather excellent London and Brighton chain. You just can’t get decent pho at all in Bristol.
But the main thing is that it’s healthy and filling and tastes like it’s actually doing you some real good, cleansing your innards and leaving you both content and virtuous. (Which, lets face it, is a combination of feelings that is generally alien to most of us).
The recipe comes in two parts, which sounds more of a pain in the arse than it actually is. First you make the vegetarian broth, and then the second part is just a bit of slicing and assembly, basically slinging it all in a bowl. Start to finish; you can easily have the whole thing on the table in 30 mins. Oh and if you have an Asian grocery shop or supermarket near you, get all the ingredients there – it’ll cost sod all.
2 litres water
2 scant level tsp Marigold Veg bouillon (Unless you have 2 litres of decent veg stock knocking around – if so, definitely use that).
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
8 medium garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 small onion, diced
One-thumb size piece of ginger, unpeeled.
Two 3-inch cinnamon sticks
2 star anise
2 large bay leaves
Add water, veg bouillon or stock, soy sauce, garlic, and onion to a large stockpot and bring to a boil over medium heat.
Meanwhile, char the ginger on all sides over an open gas flame or in a small frying pan and add to the stock. (This is a completely new technique to me, not entirely sure what the point is, but suspect it adds a subtle ginger smokiness. The finished broth didn’t taste burnt at all, so just go with it).
Add the cinnamon, star anise, and bay leaves to the broth. Reduce the heat to low. Simmer, partially covered, for 20-25 minutes.
Strain the broth through a fine sieve. Adjust seasonings if necessary. Return to pot and keep hot until ready to use in Pho.
You’ll Need: -
2 Litres Vietnamese style broth (recipe above)
200g Rice noodles (I like the thicker ribbon type)
2 handfuls bean sprouts
4 Bok Choi – Leaves left whole, stems finely sliced.
1 handful of Basil leaves
1 handful Coriander, coarsely chopped
3 Spring Onions, finely sliced.
3 Tablespoons chopped, roasted, unsalted peanuts.
1 lime, cut into wedges
3 fresh red chilli peppers, sliced into rounds
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Whilst you’re making the Veggie broth in the recipe above, you can cook the noodles. Use the timings on the packet (normally soaked in boiling hot, but off the heat, water for 10 mins or so) drain and divide the noodles among four warmed bowls.
Assemble the soup by placing the bean sprouts, cabbage, greens, basil, coriander, spring onion, and peanuts on top of the noodles.
Ladle the hot broth onto the noodle mixture.
Eat it straightaway, whilst boiling hot. If you like a bit of heat, sling in the chillies. Definitely add a squeeze or two of lime and maybe a dash of soy or fish sauce if you think it needs it, scoff it down and feel that virtuous healthy feeling expand within you.
The great thing about a recipe like this is, it’s so adaptable, you can throw any fresh greens in really – spinach, chard, Savoy cabbage, finely sliced carrot whatever you have knocking around, it doesn’t have to be authentic, as long as it tastes good. Oh, and if you don't care about it being veggie, the following additions would all work well; cooked prawns, cooked shredded chicken or finely sliced roast beef.
*My own design asymmetric natural flowing robes, freeform Tai Chi program and wind chime/monkey shagging soundtrack are all available to purchase. Drop me an email at the usual address for a pricelist.