Cook rice noodles according to package directions (boil water, add noodles and cook for about 5-10 minutes). Unlike regular pasta you do not need to salt the water. They cook quickly and you can do this while your broth is simmering. Rinse and set aside.
For the Broth:
In a large cast-iron skillet (do not add oil!), combine the star anise, cardamom, coriander, cinnamon stick, black peppercorns and goji berries. Cook over low heat, stirring, until very fragrant, 5-10 minutes. Don’t skimp on this – it’s vital to the wonderful deep flavor. Remove and transfer to a small bowl.
In the same skillet, combine the shallots and onions (still no oil needed – you are dry-roasting). Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until very deep golden brown (almost black on the ends) – 10-15 minutes. Remove from the skillet and set aside.
In a large pot add all of the vegetable broth and the pan-roasted onions and shallots or leeks. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes (longer is better!)
Stir in the toasted spices and optional apple, cover and simmer for another 30 minutes. (If you are on a time crunch, you can add everything at once and simmer for 30 minutes)
Strain the broth into a large bowl, pressing on the solids. Add broth to a clean saucepan and stir in the fish sauce and optional brown sugar. Keep on a low simmer until you are ready to serve.
Prepare the Pho:
Add rice noodles to large soup bowls. Ladle the piping hot broth over the noodles. Top with scallions and cilantro. Garnish with bean sprouts, basil, mint, jalapeno and serve with lime wedges and Sriracha.