Friday, January 8, 2010


In my novella "A Daughter's Journey," my heroine, the journalist Melanie Ames, shares a bowl of the Vietnamese national dish, Pho, with ex-Marine Phil Coughlin on a night that changes her life.

“…the food met a need so basic that it quelled the earlier disquiet Mel had felt about being with Phil any longer than absolutely necessary. She swallowed the noodles and shredded cabbage voraciously, registering the warmth, the flecks of hot chili pepper, the intense flavors of garlic and onion and basil from the broth that must have been simmering for days.”

Vegetarian Pho Bo

(Vietnamese Noodle Soup)

8 cups Vietnamese style-broth

1 pound rice noodles
One 8-ounce package seitan, drained
1/4 cup bean sprouts
1/2 cup shredded cabbage

1/2 cup basil leaves
1/2 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
3 scallions, thinly sliced

3 Tablespoons chopped, roasted, unsalted peanuts (optional)
1 lime, cut into wedges
3 fresh red or green chili peppers, seeded and cut into fine rounds
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Make the broth as directed. When broth has been simmering for about 10 minutes, soak the noodles as follows. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a large pot. Remove from heat, add noodles, and let soak around 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until noodles are pliable and easily separated.

2. Drain the noodles and divide them among six bowls. Simmer the seitan in the broth until heated through, about 4 minutes. Remove the seitan with a slotted spoon and slice thinly into six portions. Add to noodles.

3. Assemble the soup by placing the bean sprouts, cabbage, basil, cilantro, scallions, and optional peanuts on top of the noodles and seitan. Ladle the hot broth onto the noodle mixture. Serve with a plate of lime wedges, chili rounds, and salt and pepper for individual seasoning.

Vegetarian Vietnamese-Style Broth
8 cups clear vegetable stock
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
8 medium garlic cloves, peeled and chopped coarsely
1 small onion, diced
One 1-inch piece of ginger
Two 3-inch cinnamon sticks
2 pods of star anise
2 large bay leaves

1. Put stock, soy sauce, garlic, and onion in a large stockpot and bring to a boil over medium heat.

2. Meanwhile, char ginger on all sides over an open gas flame or in a small skillet. Add to the stock.

3. Add the cinnamon sticks, star anise, and bay leaves to the broth. Reduce the heat to low. Simmer, partially covered, for 20-25 minutes. Strain the broth. Adjust seasonings if necessary. Return to pot and keep hot until ready to use in soup.

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