I get a chance to go to the salon only once in 2 months (don't raise your perfectly shaped eyebrows and judge me, seriously that's how busy my days are). I always look forward to this 'me' time. A while ago, my pedicure was handled by two very pretty girls (full of giggles) who spoke to each other in what sounded like a south-east asian language, I figured they were from Vietnam. I asked if they were from Ho-Chi-Minh city and they almost fell off their chair since they couldn't believe that I actually knew of their country's existence. This knowledge of mine gave me an extra 10 minutes from their side while they kept speaking to me in broken English about their beautiful country.
Hubby had recently been to Ho Chi Minh and I had asked him to bring me some goodies. Nope, nope, not silk scarves or anything. I wanted to make the perfect 'Pho' and hubby very graciously brought all the spices and sauces for this. As I mentioned 'Pho' to them, giggly girl A opened her eyes wide and said, 'Maam, u no 'Fuh'? Such knowledge rendered her speechless. Both girls obviously couldn't imagine how this Indian lady ever went beyond the mandatory Chinese Hot and Sour soup. I smiled at their excited chatter, clearly I had eared myself another 10 more minutes with my pedicure.
I love South East Asian cuisine. I have only just started exploring Vietnamese styles, since many of these are gluten and grain free. Rice, Rice Noodles, Corn starch Noodles, Tapioca Flour and even Mung bean noodles are wonderful options to work with in the kitchen. I'm so glad that Dubai being such a multi-cultural city caters to all ethnic groups.
Traditionally Vietnamese Pho is a meat based soup. But my quest for something light on the tummy lead me to try this vegan version. I have used regular button mushrooms for this one, but if you can access Shitake Mushroom (and you aren't allergic to it), it offers the best flavor. I do confess, it's no quick fix, so please consider my 'non traditional' take as the best short cut. This soup is full of flavor, thanks to the spices, herbs and assortment of veggies, a real Umami experience.
4 cups Water
2 carrots peeled and roughly cut
2 leeks roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic peeled
2-3 celery sticks cut into large chunks
3-4 spring onions cut into large pieces
250gms Button Mushrooms sliced thick
1 package Rice Noodles
1 tbsp Sesame Oil
Salt as per taste
2 tbsp low sodium Soy sauce
2 sticks Cinnamon
3 star Anise
1 medium- large ginger thickly sliced
3 pieces Black Cardamom
1 onion peeled and quartered
thin rounds of spring onion
sliced red or green chilli (optional)
chopped coriander leaves (cilantro)
steamed snow peas/ broccoli/ bok choy
julienned bell peppers (optional)
chopped peanuts (avoid if allergic)
cooked Tofu slices(optional)
bean sprouts (optional)
Cook the rice noodles as per package instructions and set aside. Place a soup pot on high flame and gently dry fry the roasting ingredients until the onions get nicely charred. Drop in the sesame oil into the same pot and reduce the flame, add the mushrooms and stir until it softens a bit. To the same pot add the 4 cups of water, garlic cloves, carrots, celery, leeks, spring onions and salt. Bring it up to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer and let this slow cook for at least 20 mins. The more time this broth simmers, the better the flavors are. Use a pressure cooker or an instant pot to save on time. Once the broth cooking process is done, add the soy sauce. Now strain the soup, we only need the broth and not all the veggies. Pick out the mushroom slices and keep this with your assorted toppings.
Now comes the main bit of assembling the soup.
In individual bowls, drop in single servings of rice noodles and ladle in the broth, kindly adjust the salt before your start off with the toppings. Now in goes the mushrooms and arrange the rest of the toppings. Lastly, stir in the sauces and enjoy this nutritious and flavorful soup piping hot.
Serve this soup minus the toppings and let your family/ guests pick out their own toppings. I look forward to seeing your own version of this soup and tag me on #saffronbowl with your creations. In this recipe I have used thin rice noodles.
Tip- Don't add almonds or cashews in place of peanuts, it completely changes the flavour. Be adventurous with your toppings. For kids I would recommend steamed baby corn, baby bok choy as a topping option. If you have veggie broth already with you, just add it to the soup pot instead of the water and skip all veggies (and salt) except the mushrooms. You can even add 3 cloves to the roasting spices if you like a stronger flavour.