This living together thing is sometimes a balancing act, with being too close and simultaneously not spending enough real time together (compared to sitting next together but me checking out Instagram and Michael reading the news) and to be honest I (or we) don't naturally gravitate to a balance that makes us really content.There is this expectations towards relationships that they should be easy or else you are with the wrong person, but over the last few months I came to realize for myself that easy when it comes to relationships means safe and a bit boring first, but can turn to just mostly weigh you down and make you silently unhappy. And I am not really speaking of my relationship with Michael, though we do not just have a wonderfully easy and always peaceful perfect relationship.
I have been quiet here the last few months after returning from our trip to South America and I think it has to do with the fact that everytime I start writing I seem to only want to write about the end of the relationship of my parents last summer, but have felt like it is inappropriate to write about here. My mom moved out of our home last July while I was away in Cuba and since then most of what I think about concerns the question where my home is now and what I can learn from their relationship that did not work out in the end. (My conclusion is basically that if you follow the principles outlined in this book you'll have a lot of work in front of you but things should turn out fine).
And it is in this spirit that I decided to have a lazy evening at home (not taking a bath because that only sounds relaxing but just bores me) cooking this soup (a soup I have been thinking of since Deb posted her Chicken Pho almost two weeks ago) and choosing photos to order so as to be a happier person tomorrow, and in consequence a better partner, too.
And the soup turned out as lovely as I imagined it to be those two weeks ago. I have made vegetarian broths before, with kitchen scraps as Tamar Adler suggests in An Everlasting Meal but was never too happy about it. It did not seem worth the trouble of steaming up our whole kitchen when it came to flavour. I guess I overdid it with the vegetables, the heat and the cooking time (Oops). This broth, though? It is really really good, so good that I drank a whole bowl full of just the plain broth right before doing my dishes, leaving me overly full but so satisfied. I used to not be a huge fan of Shiitake mushrooms, but here I came to love them - they are meaty and mushroomy and strong but addicting tasting and make a broth that has a clear simple flavour, like I always wanted vegetarian broth to taste but never actually have tried before.
The spices you use in the broth give it only a subtle flavour, so I can imagine using any leftover broth in ways not related to Vietnamese cooking, with which I am trying to say you should probably make more than just what you need for the Vegetarian Pho if you go through the troubles of making broth from scratch (especially if you have more space in the freezer than we do, with our ice supply and a fondue mix that together fill up 1/2 of our tiny freezer).
When it comes to the add ins for the pho, I went without mung bean sprouts because we already have our fridge full of veggies we seem to have no time to eat this weekend, but I think they would be lovely if you can get them. The cilantro and lime are essential, in my opinion, anything else is up to you.
Vegetarian Pho with Shiitake Broth
Adapted from the chicken pho that Deb Perelman posted earlier this January, which was barely adapted from Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan.
Note: You don't need to use more shiitake for the broth, but I really loved them in the soup, which makes me think that next time I am going to cook additional shiitake with just a little water so I would not have to share 7 mushrooms between 6 people. For more ideas for garnishes and a recipe for crispy shallots to top the soup with, go to Deb's post on Chicken Pho. (I did not want to deal with frying shallots just for myself though so I just went without and was absolutely happy with my soup)
for the broth:
2 onions, peeled, halved
3 slices of fresh ginger, smashed (about 1/2 inch thick)
7 dried shiitake mushrooms (that is what I used and I found the flavour of the broth to be just right, but one more or less wont make that much of a difference I guess)
2 star anise
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp szechuan pepper
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tbsp sugar
2 small pieces kombu seaweed (optional)
1/4 cup soy sauce
for the pho:
300g dried rice noodles
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1 scallion, thinly slices
2 limes, cut into wedges
Either char the halfed onions and the ginger slices over the flame of your gas range or preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C, place onion halfes and ginger slices on slightly oiled baking sheet and roast until softened and slightly blackened for about 30 minutes.
Add 4 quarts of water, the onions, ginger, shiitake, the spices, salt, sugar and the kombu in a large stock pot and bring to a boil. Once the water boils, lower the heat and let gently simmer for at least an hour.
Before serving, strain the broth, setting aside the shiitake to add back in later. Add the soy sauce to the broth and adjust the seasoning to taste, adding more salt as you see fit.
Prepare the noodles: In a seperate pan, heat enough water to cover the noodles and prepare them according to the directions on the package. Drain, rinse with cold water and set aside.
Right before serving, reheat the broth, prepare all your garnishes, divide the noodles and scallion slices among 6 (large) bowls, ladle the broth over the noodles and top with your garnishes. (In fact, only use part of your garnishes in the beginning and add more as you eat so as to keep the herbs fragrant and any sprouts you might be using slightly crunchy)