Recipes for one: Pho, the pinnacle of comfort foods

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Pho To Chau © by Bytemarks, used under Creative Commons license.

Now that I’m one of the growing crowd of people living apart together, I find it real hard to want to put anything but pizza in my mouth. Before Scott moved, dinner was a most-nights ritual. Usually I cooked, sometimes he did, but when 6 PM rolled around we sat down for a foodie lovefest. Now it’s all I can do to eat anything not fast food-ful.

I’m trying to entice myself to eat more healthfully — and keep cooking for myself! — by taking the time to learn recipes I can be very excited about. This week? It’s pho.

Pho is different for everyone. Personally, I usually eat it without meat (though most restaurants use meaty broths), with extra bean sprouts, and a touch of hoisin sauce. It's a super simple dish to make your own. I have some ideas for pho customization below.

This is roughly enough broth to be able to make a few small batches of pho.


  • 2 cups good quality low sodium vegetable broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup shiitake or portabella mushrooms
  • 1/2 an onion, thinly sliced
  • 5 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/2″ piece of fresh ginger, thinly minced
  • 3 tbsp. light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 1 star anise or coriander
  • 1 green chili
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 small handful thai basil stems & leaves
  • 1 small handful cilantro stems & leaves
  • 1 8 ounce package dried rice noodles or a cup of rice
  • 2 cups shredded cabbage
  • 2 cups fresh mung bean or soybean sprouts
  • 1/2 cup fresh chopped green onions
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped or torn Thai basil
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges for garnish

Optional for serving: sliced fresh jalapenos, hoisin sauce, extra soy sauce, Sriracha, hot garlic chili sauce, mint leaves, hunks of meat, shrimp, lightly shredded carrot, dark greens.

For the broth

  1. Place the first 13 ingredients in a large soup pot with a lid. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and then reduce temperature and simmer mostly covered for 1 1/2 hours.
  2. Strain through a fine mesh colander to get all the bits out. Return the broth to the pot and bring back to temp over medium heat.

To assemble the soup

  1. Cook rice noodles according to the package — as a default method, cook half the noodles in boiling water for 3-4 minutes until tender, drain and rinse with some cool water quickly to stop the cooking. Drain these thoroughly.
  2. Distribute the noodles and cabbage in a serving bowl.
  3. Ladle the hot broth over the noodles.
  4. Top your bowl with fixings: some sprouts, basil, cilantro, a sprinkle of green onions and some lime.

Serve immediately.

Exactly how I fix mine

I added a bit of salt to my bowl, and replaced rice noodles with cooked rice — no noodles in my pantry! I glob on about a teaspoon of hoisin per bowl — and I serve it as HOT as possible!

I could use some help for other easy, whole food-y, meat-lo recipes for a lazy mope. Give me what you got!

Comments on Recipes for one: Pho, the pinnacle of comfort foods

  1. Om nom! I love pho…but so many recipes online are overly complicated on how to make the broth. This is fairly simple. I also like how it allows you to sub out the veggie broth for chicken, beef or whatever if you like! Bookmarked!

  2. I’m a big fan of Apple, Gouda, and Baby Spinach sandwiches and easy greek-like salads. Those are my go-to meals when I’m just making something for myself and don’t want to spend a lot of time or have a big clean up afterwards.

    I love pho, and thankfully the Vietnamese place we go to doesn’t use cilantro. Ugh. 😛 I definitely need to try a homemade version, but I’m pretty sure I can’t get close to my favorite. /sadface

  3. Never tried pho! Gonna hafta.
    Breakfast idea: raspberries, walnuts and cubed fried melting cheese.
    Savory ideas: garden spaghetti with 1 chopped vegetable of each kind you like; bagels with smoked salmon and cream cheese; I’ll come up with more for ya.

  4. Definitely going to try this. My fiance just moved several states away for a job as well, so count us among the living apart together crowd. Please keep the cooking for one recipes coming!

  5. When I’m home alone, my go-to recipes is Lazy Peanut Noodles. While noodles are cooking, I mix peanut butter, miso, hot sauce and lime juice (or vinegar) in my boil. If I have veggies or energy, I add those to the boiling water a minute or two before I drain the noodles. Then mix it all together, and that’s dinner.

  6. When I was still living along, stir fries were the best. They’re fast, easy, nutritious, and if you have leftovers, you have stuff the next day for fried rice or omelets. Also, eggs. And quesadillas. That was pretty much my entire diet at home for years.

    • Yup. Stir fry is a must. And I second putting pretty much anything (most leftovers make it into a burrito) in a tortilla. I love making egg and bean burritos for myself.

  7. I used to try thinking of small meals for just myself, but now my strategy is:

    1. look for a recipe I want to make.
    2. check how many servings it produces.
    3. decide how many of those servings I could feasibly eat THAT NIGHT (’cause I hate leftovers)
    4. do the math for reduction of ingredients according to my new serving size.
    5. cook!

    It’s working out better than I had expected. And no leftovers to go bad because I don’t want to eat them! (Wasting food = the number one problem of those cooking for one, I think.)

    • … Though I won’t act like I cook every night. I don’t. Some nights I come home and eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and call it a day. Ahahaha.

  8. I will need to try this recipe.

    On another note, the best thing I ever did when I moved off campus and into my own apartment was learn how to make a white sauce from scratch. because I love me some noodles.
    Also: PESTO. pesto and cavatappi noodles. if yr feeling adventurous, shrimp is an excellent addition, but man, it’s great on its own. and if you don’t know what cavatappi pasta is GO FIND OUT. it’s my absolute favourite pasta.

    here’s a picture!

  9. On my alone nights (fiance is in retail, so it’s fairly often) I like to slice up some bell peppers and saute them (since I always seem to have onions on hand…) I take that mix, spice it up as it cooks (cayenne, chipotle powder, cumin, whatever), and toss it on top of any kind of lettuce. Add a little salsa, avocado if you have it, tomatoes, cheese… There are so many possibilities! It’s my easy, veggie, awesome taco bowl.

    Another favorite is a simple marinara: olive oil, onions, garlic, tiny cans of no-salt sauce n’ paste, spices, BAM! DONE! And you just cook up as much pasta as you need. I don’t really do jar sauces but there is something so satisfying about that smell of garlic and onions cooking up. This also makes amazing leftovers.

    Oh, there’s more: mediterranean veggie bake. Take whatever random veggies you have, saute (see a theme here?) some onions, garlic, bell peppers, dump them in a baking dish, and toss some zucchini, broccoli, and whatever else you want on top. Sprinkle some feta, maybe a little herb-y breadcrumb mix, and bake it at 400 maybe?

    • I love the “maybe?”. You cook like I do when I’m just working with what I have. I’m like, “AGH WELL LET’S JUST SEE IF THIS WORKS.”

  10. Slow cooker and beans! For example, Fennel Bean Soup (6-8 servings)
    2 carrots, peeled and sliced 1/8 in thick
    1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced
    1 large onion, chopped
    1 clove garlic, crushed
    4 c chicken broth
    ½ tsp salt
    1/8 tsp pepper
    1 15 oz can cannellini beans
    2 c fresh spinach, coarsely shredded

    In the slow cooker, combine carrots, fennel, onion, garlic, chicken broth, salt & pepper. Cover & cook on low 7-8 hours, or until carrots are tender but not mushy. Turn up to high, add beans & spinach, cover & cook for 20-25 min.

    If you want more flavor, throw in some more spices. You can have this with salad, toasted cheese sandwiches, bruschetta, etc.

    I have recently become a big fan of big salads with humus & crackers, or humus & carrots/peas etc.

    Also, consider making one big something (veggie lasagna, sausage & beans, lentil soup) & then changing out your side dishes, if you’re worried about leftovers. I love my veggie lasagna; I’m too cheap to cook with meat, so I’ve never figured out how to add anything.

    1 package spinach
    at least 1/2 onion, roughly chopped
    at least 4 carrots, roughly chopped
    at least 1/2 head of garlic, roughly chopped
    1 package mushrooms
    Choose from: asparagus, broccoli, anything else you’d like to sautee
    Dry sherry, thyme, oregano, fresh black pepper
    Ricotta cheese, eggs, parmesan & mozzarella cheeses (get an Italian blend + mozzarella if you can)


    Sautee everything (carrots first, then onions & garlic, chosen veggie & spinach last) until cooked but still firm. Sprinkle on the spices to taste after the spinach starts to wilt, then splash a bunch of dry sherry & let it reduce for a bit. Mix up the eggs & cheese, following the directions on the noodle box. You can get no-cook noodles, they’re much simpler! Assemble the lasagne, making sure to put a layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of your pan. Plan on one big pan & a smaller pan, since there’s often overflow. Resist the temptation to stack it high, unless you have a deep pan; it will bubble up & wreck your oven. Following noodle directions for oven temperature, put it in for an hour at most—be careful of the cheese on top. This lasts forever, so when you get tired of it, into the freezer it goes & you can revive it later.

    Once again, alternate with salads, fresh rolls, soups, etc. But make sure to pace yourself; lasagne only gets better as leftovers, but for one person this is a lot of lasagne. I made it for my boyfriend once as a welcome home present & he was eating it for more than a week.

    Thanks for the pho recipe, I can’t wait to try it! Do you have to simmer everything loose, or can you make a bag out of cheesecloth & throw that in? I don’t have a sieve, just a pasta colander.

  11. ooh, oven baked pasta is soo easy, makes a big pan and leftovers freeze up good. Here’s how it’s made

    1 box pasta (I like penne or rigatoni)
    1 Jar sauce (Prego, Ragu, whatever)
    sauteed mushrooms, onion, peppers, etc
    1 lb ground beef cooked and crumbled (optional)
    1 bag shredded mozzarella cheese

    Preheat oven to 350
    Place 1st 4 ingredients in a 9 x 13 baking pan.
    Add 1 jar (from the sauce) of water
    Stir and cover with foil
    Bake for appx 1 hour
    Remove foil and top with cheese
    Bake until cheese melts and starts to brown

    EAT! and eat and portion and freeze, then eat and eat again!

    • It is extremely important to note that you DO NOT cook the pasta before doing the rest of this recipe. It cooks in the sauce, absorbing alla the yummy flavors.

  12. My easiest go-to on my own meal is bean salad: can of beans (I like cannoli), spices of choice (I liked smoked paprika, smoked salt and pepper — or go basil, oregano, rosemary) a clove or two of minced garlic (garlic press LOVE!), olive oil and vinegar/ lemon/ lime juice. Tomatoes are awesome to add in. Or other veggies, but I won’t lie, this is my OMG I forgot to eat and I’m ravenous now!!!! meal.

    If I have more time, I add quinoa (but that also usually makes it a cooking for two meal).

  13. The best pho I’ve ever had was from the place where i used to do my laundry, a family owned laundromat/Vietnamese restaurant. It made doing my laundry so much less of a chore. And I have never tasted pho anywhere near as good.
    My go to ‘oh no, I’m all alone!’ meal for when my partner’s working late or has classes is packet macaroni cheese. I love it, he hates it, it’s easy so it’s my special me time food. Either that or a packet of bagel chips and a tub of avocado cream cheese dip, although I guess that’s not technically a meal, especially when I stretch it out of several hours and a season of Downton Abbey.

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