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Pho (pronounced "fuh") is a traditional Vietnamese dish. It is simple to make and there is plenty of room for substitution to your heart’s desire.
This is my story as a newly-minted adult learning how to make vegetable broth for pho.
We’ve all been there, curled up on the couch, deep in the throes of a seasonal cold. I’ve been there too, angry at the universe for doing this to me, disappointed in my immune system for failing me, sick and tired of chicken soup for every meal for the past three days.
“Eat normal food,” my little brother said, with all the logic one might expect from an 11-year-old. (I’m not sure how chicken soup—a universal classic—fails to qualify as "normal food" either.)
I rolled my eyes, pushing the towering plate of greasy steak and creamy pasta away from me. “I’ll puke.”
It was the truth.
My sister ran in then, shoving her phone (at full brightness, BTW) in my face. “Let’s make pho.”
On the screen was an image of a fancy artisan bowl filled with vibrant green herbs, thin-sliced strips of medium rare steak, and artfully tousled, thin, white noodles—all of this immersed in glassy, brown-tinted liquid.
“Get this out of my face,” I said.
Food is not art. Food is food. It is not meant to be looked at. It is meant to be consumed.
All this craftsmanship and Insta-foodie and meals-looking-better-than-they-taste madness had exhausted me. I wanted no part in anything that took more than an hour to make.
“It takes 30 minutes,” my sister said.
I dragged my lazy, aching butt to the kitchen.
All the necessary ingredients for my journey learning how to make vegetable broth for pho were already in my kitchen. We had the pots and pans. We grabbed some noodles and tossed them in boiling water, chopped up some vegetables and set them aside, and shredded some rotisserie chicken for the meat. All that was left was the soup itself, and our first snag.
Like I said, I wasn’t interested in spending over an hour cooking when I was already spending half my energy on not coughing on the food. And as much as I love bone broth, I wasn’t about to wait six hours for the bones to simmer. I sure as hell wasn’t about to use that sodium-filled, bloat-inducing instant broth powder unhealthy people are such a fan of. (The suggestion of plain water was met with minimalism: “No.”)
That left us with vegetable broth.
Making Vegetable Broth
The internet gets a bad rep sometimes, with all the hackers and the spies and the distracting cat videos—but without it, I wouldn’t have learned how to make vegetable broth for pho with this recipe less than two minutes after asking the question.
The recipe calls for a few specific vegetables, but there’s really no set rule to this. Feel free to use:
- Soy Sauce
- Bay Leaves
- Whatever you desire
I took full advantage of all this wiggle room and went all out with shiitake mushrooms, left out the salt and pepper, and added a splash of hoisin sauce.
This recipe also says to reduce the heat on the stovetop after it’s come to a boil. I did not do this.
With my younger siblings pestering me and my own hunger growing, I simply put the stove on medium high heat, covered the pot, and worked on finishing up and straining the noodles for about 15 minutes. By then, the broth had taken on a slight brown tint and a faint, pleasant scent.
Maybe it wasn’t a culinary expert-approved method, but it got the job done. (Anyway, I was so annoyed with my siblings at this point, I couldn’t care less if the taste suffered.) There are other recipes which call for roasting the vegetables in the oven beforehand, another technique to bring out flavor… if you’re more patient than I.
Learning how to make vegetable broth for pho was fun, but not quite as great as standing over the finished product. Everything was complete. The noodles were cooked, meat ready, and broth looking good.
I stayed true to the more traditional style of pho, placing the noodles, herbs and meat into a bowl and pouring in just enough broth to cover it. On a separate plate, I kept my bean sprouts and lime wedges as a side.
My sister went for vegetarian pho, simply leaving out the meat and throwing in extra mushrooms.
My brother decided to be bizarre and kept everything except the noodles on a separate plate. I decided not to question it.
I love pho.
I no longer have a cold and my disgust for chicken soup has since worn off, and I now know how to make vegetable broth for pho, so I think the sickness was worth it. I found how easy and quick it can be to make pho, and how perfect it is when you’re in the mood for something light, yet still flavorful.