Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Mushroom Pho Soup

We live in the metro Denver area where there is a great mix of cultures - which also means there is a great mix of foods. Our dining options are influenced by Latin, Asian, Native American, and European residents (as well as many more). Federal Blvd, a street running North and South just West of Denver, has amazing grocery stores catering to specific groups. We can get fresh rice noodles, herbs, and other hard to find ingredients at these stores, and I am always amazed at how much cheaper they are at these smaller grocers.

One our favorite finds from eating around Denver is Pho soup. It is a Vietnamese noodle soup that has a delicious broth. It comes with a variety of toppings that allows each person to customize their bowl to their individual taste. It is such a fun food, too with the noodles, toppings, and sauces that go with it. It is one of my family's very favorite things to eat. I like to cook a big batch of the broth and keep it in the freezer, as making the broth is an all day affair - you need to do it in phases to develop the depth of flavor that makes this soup so outstanding. So hunker down on a cold weekend (it is snowing here!) and enjoy the process.

Mushroom Pho Soup

Broth (in 3 phases) Ingredients:

Phase 1:

12 cups water
1 4' piece of kombu
6 dried shiitake mushrooms

Phase 2:

3 pounds yellow onion, peeled and chopped (about 6 onions, divided)
3 carrots
2 stalks celery
1 tbsp sesame oil

Phase 3:

2 oz fresh ginger (3 or 4 1" pieces), washed and sliced with peel on
1 oz fresh turmeric root, washed and sliced with peel on
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 1/2 tbsp whole fennel seeds
5 whole cardamom pods
5 star anise
7 whole cloves
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp pink peppercorns
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 stalk lemongrass, smashed

1/4 cup soy sauce

Broth Directions:

Phase 1:

Start the broth by bring the kombu and shiitake mushrooms to a boil in 12 cups of water. Cover and let that simmer for about 30-40 minutes. While the mushrooms and seaweed are boiling, heat your oven to 350 degrees

Phase 2:

Peel and quarter 2 of the onions, roughly chop the carrots into large chunks, and do the same with the celery. Coat the veggies with the sesame oil and roast them in the oven for 30 minutes.

Phase 3:

When the veggies are done roasting, take them out of the oven. Fish the shiitake mushrooms out of the broth and set them aside to let them cool. Add the roasted veggies to the broth as well as all the other broth ingredients (except the soy sauce) which are: the rest of the onions (4) peeled and quartered, ginger, turmeric, garlic, fennel seeds, cardamom, anise, cloves, peppercorns, coriander, and lemongrass. You may need to add another 2 or 3 cups of water as it may have evaporated down too much, and you want the veggies and spices to be covered. Bring this back to a low boil and let the broth simmer with the lid on for an hour. While the broth is doing its thing - it is the perfect time to prep the toppings and the tofu.

When the broth is done cooking, strain it into another large pot. Do not press the vegetables to get more flavor, as that makes the broth bitter. Just let it sit in a colander over the second pot and let it drain. Add the soy sauce, taste and add more if you like. Keep the sauce warmed over a low flame until you are ready to eat.

Fried Tofu Ingredients:

1 14 oz block extra firm tofu, pressed (I put mine between two plates with a soup can on top)

1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp soy sauce

Fried Tofu Directions:

Slice the pressed tofu into small rectangles. Heat the sesame oil in a large non-stick pan, and add the tofu slices. Try to arrange the slices in a single layer if possible. Fry the tofu while stirring occasionally, as you want the sides to brown. When the tofu is browned on both sides, drizzle the soy sauce over it and stir to distribute. Take the tofu off the heat and put in a serving dish.

Soup Ingredients:

Pho broth

1 pound rice stick noodles

Optional toppings:

Assorted mushrooms (I like canned straw mushrooms, the shiitakes from the broth sliced, and enoki)
Sliced carrot
Sliced celery
Sliced bok choy
Sliced bell pepper
Mung bean sprouts
lime wedges
fresh jalapeƱo slices
thai basil leaves
fresh cilantro
sriracha hot sauce


Cook the rice noodles according to the package directions. Nest the rice noodles in the bottom of a large bowl. Pour the hot broth over the noodles and add the toppings of your choice. Add some fried tofu, let it sit for a few minutes to let the flavors of the fresh vegetables permeate the dish. A squeeze of lime, a dash of hot sauce, and a drizzle of soy sauce really make this bowl shine.

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