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Authentic Vegan Pho
If we could only have one meal for the rest of our lives, we would honestly pick pho. We’re pho real! There is nothing more beautiful and satisfying than diving into a bowl of pho. When I transitioned to a plant-based diet, I was quite sad because good vegan pho was hard to come by. So I decided to make my own and I tried to do it as authentically as possible. This recipe sits very close to my heart and I’m so excited to show you guys how much delight a bowl of pho can bring to our lives!
This is part of my authentic vegan Vietnamese series – more to come!
- Creates: 4-6 pho bowls
- Dietary: V | VG | GF | NF
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Cook Time: ~1-2 hours (see more in notes)
- Total Time: ~1 hour 30 minutes
Pho Vegetable Broth
- 1 red apple, halved
- 1 pear, halved
- 3 carrots, peeled
- 1 corn, quartered
- 1 white radish , halved
- 1/2 cabbage, outer layers peeled
- 40-50g rock sugar*, adjust to taste
- 3.5 tbsp salt, adjust to taste
- 3 tbsp mushroom seasoning^, adjust to taste
- Water (to fill up stock pot)
Pho Seasoning Broth
- 1 piece (thumb-sized) ginger, peeled
- 2 brown onions, peeled and halved
- 1 packet of pho seasoning broth spices OR see below in notes’
- Olive oil
- 1 packet tofu puffs
- 1 cup dried beancurd sticks, halved
- 1 cup king oyster mushrooms, sliced
- 1 cup shimeji mushrooms, sliced
- 1 cup dried shiitake mushrooms, halved and stems cut
- 1 cup soy slices
- 1kg rice noodles (preferably fresh but can also use dried ones)
- 2 bunch sawtooth herbs
- 2 bunch Thai basil leaves
- 1 packet mung bean sprouts
- 1 bunch spring onions
- Serve with: lime wedges, Sriracha, hoisin sauce, pickled onions**
- In a large stock pot, add in the apple, pear, carrots, radish and cabbage. Fill the pot up with water and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium-low heat, partially cover the pot and let the stock simmer.
- Meanwhile, drizzle some olive oil in a small pan over medium heat. Add in the ginger and onions when hot. Cook until slightly charred on both sides. Transfer to the stock pot.
- While the pan is still hot, add in the pho spices (you don’t need to add more oil). Toast for 6-8 minutes until the spices are extremely fragrant. Stir frequently to avoid burning. Remove from heat.
- Carefully transfer the spices into a tightly secured cheesecloth or similar. Tie the cheesecloth drawstring to a long chopstick (or something similar that is wide enough to fit across the stockpot). Place the chopstick across the pot and immerse the spice bag into the simmering stock. Make sure none of the spices come out of the bag. Cover the lid partially and let the stock simmer for at least 30 minutes^^ (the longer the better). There is an alternative way to do this if you want to have more control over the intensity of the pho aroma (please check notes“).
- After the stock has simmered for the desired time, taste test the broth. This may indicate the need to simmer for longer. Otherwise, scoop out all of the fruits and vegetables (be gentle with the apples and pears as they are quite soft!)
- Slowly season the broth with rock sugar, salt and mushroom seasoning. Stir and taste test each time (make sure that the rock sugar dissolves before assessing the flavour). Adjust according to your preference – some people prefer their pho broth on the sweet side while others like it quite mellow.
- Add in the pho fillings. Cover and simmer until the fillings are cooked and tender. Note: if using tofu, add them to the soup a few minutes before serving so they don’t become soggy.
- Prepare the rice noodles. If using dried, cook according to package instructions. If using fresh, gently rinse the noodles with cold water to wash off excess oil. Carefully pull apart the noodle strands so they separate.
- When ready to serve, place some rice noodles into a large bowl. Sprinkle over spring onions. Ladle the soup and pho fillings over the noodles. Personally, I love my pho garnished with fresh sawtooth herbs, Thai basil leaves and mung bean sprouts. Season the broth with some hoisin sauce and sriracha if desired. Pour some hoisin and sriracha into dipping bowls to dip the pho fillings in.
Pho is often served with pickled onions as a condiment. These pickled onions bring about a burst of freshness and flavour. Eat them in between spoonfuls of pho or add them into your soup! I’m going to show you how to make these pickled onions!
- 2 white or brown onions, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 1/2 tbsp salt
- Immerse onions in an ice bath for 5 minutes. This step is optional but it helps them to be crunchier.
- Transfer the onions into a pickling jar or bowl. Pour in vinegar, sugar and salt. Mix well. Let the onions sit for at least 30 minutes to let the flavours absorb.
- Serve with pho and enjoy!
*Rock sugar can be found at Asian grocery stores. I recommend using rock sugar rather than substituting it with other sweeteners like white sugar. Rock sugar isn’t as sweet as white sugar and has no caramel tones. It’s perfect for pho because it provides a subtle hint of sweetness to the soup without overpowering the pho aroma.
^Mushroom seasoning can also be found at Asian grocery stores. It is one of my vegan pantry staple and adds a beautiful umami flavour to any dish. You can substitute with salt. Another way to add some mushroom flavouring is to sauté the mushrooms before adding them into the soup.
‘The beautiful pho aroma comes from a collection of spices. Usually, I buy pre-packaged ones that are designed for pho at Asian grocery stores especially Vietnamese ones. There are a lot of brands but generally they should provide the same flavouring. If you can’t find the ready made ones, you can make your own with these spices:
- 1 tbsp cloves
- 1/4 cup coriander seeds
- 1/4 cup fennel seeds
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 4 star anise
- 1 black cardamom
- 1 licorice root
“Traditionally, pho is a beef noodle soup. But instead of meat, we’ll be using a variety of different fillings. The great thing about this is you can add anything you like. Here are some tips!
- Different types of mushrooms are often used because they absorb the flavours well and have a good texture for pho. Along with the above mushrooms, enoki is also a great one to include.
- Tofu provides a good source of protein. Use firm or semi-fried tofu (like tofu puffs) rather than silken or soft so they don’t break in the soup. As seen in the video, I like to air-fry my tofu and add them as a garnish so they’re not soggy.
- Dried beancurd sticks are commonly used in Vietnamese vegetarian/vegan dishes.
- Soy slices are also another good source of protein. They absorb the flavours really well and also look similar to meat. There are a lot of mock meat alternatives available at Asian grocery stores that you can add in.
- Feel free to add in vegetables like carrots and broccoli to boost up the nutritional content.
^^Because we’re making the pho broth from scratch, it does take a long time to produce a flavourful soup. We’re relying on the fruits and vegetables to provide natural sweetness while the spices give off the pho aroma. Traditionally, it can take hours to simmer the broth. We usually start simmering the broth in the morning for about 4-5 hours so it can be ready for dinner. We’ve also made it with simmering for around 1-2 hours and the flavours are plentiful. If you’re in a rush, we would recommend simmering it for at least 30 minutes. Of course, there is also no harm in using ready-made pho stock from the shops too (but do try our recipe and see the difference!)
“An alternative way is to simmer the spice bag in a saucepan. Add water and simmer until the pho aroma intensifies. Gradually ladle the pho flavouring into the stockpot. This allows you to be in control of how intense you want your pho to be.
- Gluten-free: This recipe is generally GF but please check the brand of rice noodles, soy slices, pho seasoning spices, sriracha and hoisin sauce.
How to Make it Whole Foods
At Embody Nourish, we promote a plant-based diet that comprise mainly of whole foods. This means no oil (even ‘healthy’ oils such as coconut or olive oil), refined or processed foods. However we understand that this ideal is not yet mainstream so we strive to accomodate everyone while encouraging small changes.
You can make this vegan pho recipe whole foods by:
- Using a grill (without oil) or air-fryer to char the ginger and onions
- Omitting the rock sugar. Instead, increase the amount of apples and pears to produce a more natural sweetness
- Instead of using mushroom seasoning, sauté the mushrooms to bring out their umami flavours a bit more before adding them into the soup
- Use firm tofu instead of semi-fried tofu
- You can use this pho broth recipe with other noodles such buckwheat or wholewheat