The best bowl of pho you’ll ever have is right in the kitchen of an amazing Vietnamese mom. My mom has always made the best bowl of pho ga (chicken), but since I no longer consume land creatures, I actively claim that I make the best bowl of pho chay (vegan pho) you’ll ever have. Unless of course you’ve been to Au Lac in Fountain Valley, CA…then I’d say it’s comparable. The protein you choose to use is completely up to you. I made my own seitan using this recipe from Vegetarian Times. It’s a lot of work, so unless you’ve got a lot of time, I wouldn’t recommend making a block of seitan just for a pho recipe. You can also use pre-made seitan at the grocery store or skip it altogether & just stick with tofu (deep fried or baked extra firm tofu is the best, but that’s up to you), mushrooms, or extra veggies. Since pho is actually considered breakfast, I like to add an egg to my morning bowls. If you’re vegan, probably don’t do that, yeah?
If there’s absolutely one thing you take away from glancing at this recipe, it should be that any recipe that claims to be vegan pho is just vegetable soup broth & rice vermicelli noodles is NOT pho by any means. Vegetable broth & rice vermicelli noodles = NOODLE SOUP. Pho is a very specific type of noodle that looks like this. It can either be thin, as thin as Pad Thai noodles because they’re pretty much identical, or really thick. Pho noodles are never clear (bean thread; also called mien), yellow (egg or wonton noodles), round (think of the noodles in fresh summer rolls), & they’re most definitely not the same noodles you eat in ramen. Pho noodles are flat, always. Even if they’re thick, they’re flat.
Lastly, the reason pho is not just vegetable broth & noodles is simply because what makes pho unique is its usage of very specific Vietnamese spices: cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, clove, fennel, ginger, & star anise. If any recipe for pho doesn’t mention any of these spices, throw that garbage out. It’s trash. NOW ONTO THE RECIPE.
- 1 large yellow onion, peeled
- 2 thumbs ginger, peeled & halved lengthwise
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 5 black cardamom pods or 2 tsp cardamom
- 1 Tbsp coriander
- 3 star anise
- 2 tsp fennel seeds
- 1.5 tsp clove
- 1 Braeburn, Fuji, or Gala apple, peeled & roughly chopped
- 14 cups water
- 1 large carrot, peeled & halved widthwise
- 1 small daikon radish, peeled & halved widthwise
- 1/4 cabbage head, roughly chopped
- 2 cups dried shiitake mushroom
- 2 Tbsp light brown sugar, agave, or raw honey (honey isn't technically vegan!)
- 1/3 cup Healthy Boy Mushroom Sauce or tamari
- salt to taste
- 4 cups mushroom medley, roughly chopped
- 1 tsp white pepper
- 2 tsp Healthy Boy Mushroom Sauce or tamari
- 1 package extra firm tofu, drained & cubed (optional)
- 3 sheets dried bean curd, roughly crunched into broth (optional)
- Seitan (optional)
- 3 packages pho noodles (Banh Pho Tuoi or dried rice stick noodle)
- Scallions, chopped
- Cilantro, stems removed & roughly chopped
- 1 yellow onion, halved & thinly sliced widthwise
- Bean sprouts
- Thai basil
- Jalapeño or thai chili peppers
- Hoisin sauce
- 1. Preheat oven to 400º F. Spray small baking sheet with canola oil or pour & spread about 2 tsp of canola oil on the sheet. Place onion, ginger, & cinnamon on baking sheet. Roast for about 20 minutes or until onion begins to blacken a little. You can also lightly dry roast the other spices on a dry pan on the stove for 5 minutes if you want extra smokey spiced flavors.
- Alternative method: roast the onion & ginger separately on your gas stovetop until charred.
- 2. Fill a muslin or tea bag with spices, leaving out the cinnamon sticks. Fill another muslin/tea bag with chopped apple & ginger. In a large stock pot, fill 3/4 way with water or vegetable broth (~14 cups). Bring water to a boil on medium high heat & toss in the apple ginger tea bag, cinnamon, shiitake, & onion. Bring broth down to a simmer & cook for an hour, uncovered. 30 minutes prior to serving broth, add the other spices bag in the broth. Remove the bag after 30 minutes. DO NOT OVER STEEP THE SPICES. Salt to taste. Scoop out onion, carrot, & radish. You can either slice everything up & eat it in your pho or toss it.
- 3. Spray a frying pan with canola oil & heat on medium high. Add mushroom medley of your choice with mushroom sauce.
- Optional ways to cook tofu
- -stir-fry the tofu with about 2 tsp canola oil for about 15 minutes, then add in mushrooms.
- -bake the tofu for an hour at 425º F with light oil & salt
- -deep fry cubed tofu
- 4. Bring a medium sized half full of water to a boil. Toss in noodles for about 2-3 minutes. Drain water & set aside.
- 5. To serve, place noodles in a large soup bowl, ladle in the broth, & top with cooked mushrooms. Top with additional herbs.
- All toppings are pretty much optional since culantro is very difficult to find unless you have a Vietnamese supermarket near you. I highly recommend the holy five: cilantro, scallions, Thai basil, lime, & onion.
- Refer to Viet World Kitchen's blog on what pho looks like in its packaged form. The fresher noodles will be found in the refrigerated section, often in a pink or blue package. The dry noodles that are ideal in Pad Thai are a great substitution too.
- The apple ginger tea bag you create can stay in the broth until you serve. The other tea of spices must be taken out after 30 minutes of steeping.
How to Properly Eat Pho
Use a Chinese soup spoon & chopsticks. Soup spoon goes in your non-dominant hand & the chopsticks go in your dominant hand. Grab noodles & toppings with chopsticks, place in soup spoon, & dip your spoon into the broth. Shove in your mouth. Enjoy every bite. Hoisin sauce + Sriracha make a great combo of flavors you can dip the tofu/seitan/whatever protein in!