I love Vietnamese pho soup. And if you’ve ever had it, you probably do too. There is a section of Atlanta (my hometown), which is lined with Vietnamese restaurants. I used to work in that area and when I discovered pho (and Vietnamese cuisine in general), I think there were two weeks in a row where I had pho from a different restaurant each day.
In my own cooking and fermenting, I discovered that the spices and herbs in pho are wonderful on almost everything. This led me to experimenting with pho flavored fermented okra (what I lovingly call “phokra,” which I have finally posted here). Later, when I discovered fermented spicy cherry tomato “bombs,” it didn’t take long to put two and two together… and Phomato was born!
Luckily I have a steady supply of various types of cherry and grape tomatoes from my home garden in the summer, as the partly ripe tomatoes are ideal for this recipe. You will still produce a delicious ferment from store bought tomatoes, but start with the firmest tomatoes you can find. Some people pierce the skins of their tomatoes (e.g. with a toothpick) for the flavor to penetrate, but I have never found this necessary and presumably that would degrade firmness. (However, if you’re going to make phomato sauce, pierce away!)
This is an extremely easy ferment, especially if you have access to an international or Asian market where you can buy a ready-made pho spice mix. If not, you will have to buy the spices individually and combine them into a mix. (I’ve used this pho pack on Amazon with great results, despite a negative review.)
You will need:
- Quart jar or container
- small cooking pot (optional infused spice method)
- mortar and pestle or way to crush your pho spice blend
- Fermentation weight and airlock (or use regular lid and sporadically burp the jar for a more effervescent version)
- 1 rounded TBSP pho spice blend per quart jar (excludes cinnamon stick) — pho spice typically consists of star anise, fennel, clove, coriander and/or cardamom. (You will have to make your own blend if you can’t find it pre-made.)
- 1 cinnamon stick & black cardamom pod (it should come in a pre-made pho spice pack)
- 4-5 cloves garlic, quartered
- 4-5 sprigs Thai basil (preferred but other basil can be substituted if needed)
- Several stalks of cilantro, ~10g
- Nub of ginger, thinly sliced (~15g)
- Very firm cherry tomatoes (any variety) to fill your container (not fully ripened is best)
- 1 TBSP + 1 tsp additive-free salt (or use a 4 – 4.5% brine) dissolved in 2 filtered cups water
- For a spicy version: 1-2+ sliced jalapenos, red or green
- 1-2 tsp peppercorns
- 1 TBSP lime juice and zest of lime
- 1-2 TBSP fish sauce
- Wash all the produce including the basil
- Coarsely crush all the spices in mortar & pestle and place them in the cooking pot along with the cinnamon stick, salt, peppercorns (if used), and water (2 cups per quart jar), bring to a boil, then turn off heat and allow to cool to room temperature (or colder). (Alternately, just make a cold saltwater brine, shaking the salt and spices in a sealed jar until the salt has fully dissolved. This method is faster but will not make as strong of a flavor.)
- Slice any peppers used (spicy or otherwise)
- In the jar, put in the tomatoes, lime juice, fish sauce, ginger, garlic, hot pepper slices, and any other produce used, ending with the basil and cilantro on top
- Fill the jar with the spiced salt water brine until it reaches about 1.5″ from the top. Keep all spices and the cinnamon stick in the jar.
- Top everything with fermentation weight
- Conclude with placement of the lid and an airlock or any preferred device, otherwise use the standard lid and burp it every 1-2 days
- The tomatoes will normally be flavorful and effervescent within 3-5 days. The flavor will continue to develop in the refrigerator, but tomatoes will go soft within a couple weeks.
- The tomatoes can be eaten one at a time, like pickles
- Alternately, as a kind of play on the pho theme, a larger quantity can be placed in a bowl with some brine, chopped cilantro and/or basil, and fresh squeezed lime (as shown below), optional bean sprouts and eaten with a spoon like a pho soup. Or use these on a salad or however you like.
- Phomato sauce: fermentable, pho-spiced ketchup is finally here!