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Plant-based backpacking meals Recipes for Winter Backpacking Vegetable Phö with Tofu

Vegetable Phö with Tofu

Simple, fresh, and quick!

This is the dish I make more often than any other on winter trips, especially when the temperatures get near or below 15ºF. It is both delicious and practical. The ingredients are situated in a soupy broth, making it easy to reheat if necessary without any risk of the food burning or sticking to the pan. This dish is ideal for winter backpacking because it is hot, tasty, and helps you rehydrate after a hard hike. Phö is a Vietnamese meal popular in the Pacific Northwest. It can be prepared with different ingredients. It usually consists of a savory broth; noodles; fresh vegetables; herbs and sprouts, tofu, peanuts, or some type of meat; and finished with Chili crisp or Sriracha and/or Hoisin sauce.

One of the nicest features of Phö is its freshness. You simply put partially cooked noodles, fresh uncooked vegetables, and cooked Tofu in a bowl and then add hot broth, and the noodles and vegetables are cooked by the broth even as it is served. For winter backpacking, the main adjustment is to skin draining the noodles and doing everything in just one pot. Simply reverse the final process. Instead of adding the broth to the other ingredients, add the vegetables and tofu to the broth that is in the process of cooking the noodles.

Many people regard Phö as a strickly non-vegetarian dish, because broth recipes traditionally tend to include beef bones and meat and/or fish sauce. Because of the growing popularity of plant-based meals, you can now find plant-based Phö broth in large one-leter containers in regular grociery stores in the Pacific Northwest. You can also buy it in smalled condensed packages ideal for backpacking.

Plant-based Phö can be bought ready-made in condensed packs that weigh around 1/2 ounce each.

There are a number of ways you can make your own plant-based broth. For example, you can use a cube of Vegetable Bouillon, onion powder, ginger paste, cinnamon, cardamon, coriander, cloves, fennel seeds, sugar, and salt. Sometimes I just mix my own broth using enough soy sauce, chili oil, sesame oil, lemon juice or Chinkiang vinegar to fit in a 2 ounce container.

The main thing to understand about Phö is that the process is as important as the flavor of the broth, maybe even more important. By process, I mean that the hot broth is actually cooking the noodles and vegetables while you are eating it. The vegetables are raw when they are added, but almost instantly cooked in the broth. The noodles are almost cooked, but not fully, when you turn off the heat. As it cools, the cooking process slows down, preventing the noodles and vegetables from being over cooked. I recommend trying it out in a restaurant a few times to get to understand it if you haven’t already.

To save fuel and time, don’t fully drain or rinse the rice noodles. Rinsing noodles in freezing weather is not practical. Just add the broth and vegetables to the boiling water about a minute before the noodles are fully cooked. Then top with peanuts and chili crisps or whatever sauce you prefer and eat. You can also drain off much of the liquid and drink it separately kind of like a vegetable soup. I sometime drain the liquid so I can add chopped peanuts to the top (this avoids the peanuts getting into the broth and becoming soggy). If I don’t have time to pre-cook some tofu before the trip, I just use peanuts.

basic phö ingredients
Typical Phö ingredients. In this photo the Tofu is baked to dry it out and make it chewy.

Ingredients

  • About 1 cup or around 4 ounces of fresh vegetables, such as broccoli, carrots, bell peppers, bok choy, red onion, and fresh basil leaves.
  • 2–4 ounces of Rice noodles: There are many types and most will work fine. I usually take around 2–2.5 ounces of noodles. Rice noodles will usually cook in 4–8 minutes.
  • Ready-made Phö broth or your own recipe (such as soy sauce, chili oil, sesame oil, lemon juice) or vegetable bouillon cube.
  • Pre-cooked about 2 ounces of Tofu or use chopped peanuts and sesame seeds as toppings. I usually do both.
  • Hoisin sauce and/or Chili oil with crisp
cooking tofu
You can pre-cook Tofu by sautéing it in a pan (about 3 minutes each side) as shown here or bake Tofu on a cookie sheet for 20–30 minutes at 400ºF, depending on how dry and firm you want it to be. There is enough tofu in this pan for about 3 meals.
chili crisp
This stuff is so delicious that if you had nothing but a table spoon of it and no other broth, the meal would still be good.

Prepare at home

Chop vegetables and cook Tofu.
Put tablespoon of Chili crisp in small container. Hoisin sauce or just chili oil will also work.

Directions at camp

  1. Boil noodles
  2. Add broth
  3. Add vegetables and optional tofu about 1 minute before the noodles are done.
  4. Add Hoisin sauce and/or Chili crisp

Enjoy.

Weight

The weight will vary. I usually end up packing more than I require.

phö weight for one serving