with Fresh Tofu Skins
Few soups are easier to vary than the Vietnamese pho (pronounced fuh). Noodles and a spice-scented, aromatic broth are the only constants. We’ve been lucky enough to share fresh tofu skins, also called yuba, from our friends at Hodo Soy Beanery in Oakland, California. These are made by heating fresh soy milk (Hodo’s is organic and super high in protein), skimming the layer that forms on top, and then repeating as new layers form. It’s very labor-intensive, but the result is a sheet that combines the best of both pasta and tofu—toothsome and tasty. If you’ve never tried it, you’re in for a treat.
- 6 ounces carrots
- 1 onion
- Fresh ginger
- 1 pound assorted fresh mushrooms
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons tamari
- 1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
- Kombu seaweed
- 1/2 ounce dried mushrooms
- Fresh chile
- 2 scallions
- 1 small bunch watercress
- 1 lime
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil*
- 6 ounces dried flat rice noodles
- 5 ounces fresh tofu skins
- *not included
Bring a large pot of water to boil and salt it. Put 2 1/4 cups water in a small saucepan over high heat. Scrub and trim the carrots; cut the carrots and onion into large chunks (there’s no need to peel the vegetables). Add the carrots and onion to the saucepan. Peel the ginger and slice it into 1/4-inch rounds. Rinse the fresh mushrooms and remove the tough stems; reserve the caps. Add the stems to the saucepan along with the ginger, bay leaves, tamari, and five spice. Bring the stock to a boil, and then reduce the heat so it bubbles steadily. Cook undisturbed until you’re ready to assemble the soup, 15 to 20 minutes. Break the kombu into 1-inch pieces and put them into a small bowl. Add the dried mushrooms and 1 cup of the boiling water from the large pot.
Slice the fresh mushroom caps. Rinse and trim the chile, scallions, and watercress; chop the chile; slice the scallions. Rinse and halve the lime. Put the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the mushroom caps, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently until they release their liquid and the pan is dry, 3 to 5 minutes. Lower the heat to medium and cook, stirring once in a while, until the mushrooms shrivel and brown in places, 10 to 15 minutes. Add some or all of the chile (depending on your affinity for heat) and stir.
Add the noodles to the pot of boiling water and remove the pot from the heat. Soak the noodles until just tender; start tasting them after 3 minutes. Drain the noodles into a colander, rinse them under cold tap water until cool, and then put them in a bowl covered with water until you’re ready to assemble the soup. Strain the liquid from the dried mushrooms and kombu into the pot you used to cook the noodles; discard the kombu. Chop the dried mushrooms, add them to the skillet, and stir. Slice the tofu skins into ribbons as wide or narrow as you like.
Strain the stock into the large pot and set it over high heat; discard the vegetables. Add a ladleful of stock to the skillet and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan; transfer the contents of the skillet to the pot. Squeeze the juice from one half of the lime into the pot. Bring the broth to a boil, and then remove the pot from the heat. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more chile, lime juice, or salt if you’d like. Add the tofu skins to the pot. Drain the noodles, run them under hot tap water, and drain them again; divide among bowls. Ladle the mushrooms, tofu, and broth over the noodles, top with the watercress, and garnish with the scallions.