Vegan Pho is Phine Dining

There are just too many English puns to make with a word like pho: pho sho, pho yeah, pho king good, pho this-and-that.

I was told by Vietnamese co-workers a long time ago that it is not pronounced “foh” but rather as “fuh”.  Bonus points to you if you say it with a question mark afterwards (“fuh?”) which is much closer to how it actually sounds in Vietnamese. Or so I’ve been told.

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Being of Indo-Dutch descent and growing up in the melting pot of southern California, I’ve been surrounded by all sorts of delicious and strange Asian foods my whole life.  I’ve been to authentic Chinese and Thai restaurants, Korean BBQ, Vietnamese pho shops, Indonesian dives, noodle cafes, etc.

Last winter, soon after moving here, it hit me like a brick wall: I wanted something Asian-y to eat.  Some sort of typical Asian comfort food, like noodles.  Ooh, yes, a big bowl of aromatic pho to slurp down.  The idea took hold and, frankly, since pho restaurants are essentially non-existent in this part of Montana, I knew I had to make some myself.  From scratch.

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I know, I know, beef broth is traditionally used as the pho soup base, it takes many hours to make, it’s absolutely delicious.  I don’t dispute that!  Rather, since I wanted a vegetarian or vegan version (of which I’ve had many good versions before), the more important thing for me was to get the spices, the general flavor of the broth correct.   After scouring the internet and looking at many different recipes, I based my version on two of them.

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Recipe Notes:

  • I would say this recipe serves 6-8 people.  The amount of servings depends on how much steam escapes while making the broth: I’ve made it before where the recipe yielded 12 servings and another time, just 6.  This possibly is also directly related to bowl size, just a hunch.
  • Some recipes suggest charring the onion/ginger under the broiler or over a gas flame before placing in pot.  I’ve never done it before and it tastes just fine to me!
  • I’ve seen recipes where the majority of the spices are replaced with Chinese Five Spice.  You can look and see how it’s done here.
  • I’d suggest making the “meat” mixture more salty than you normal would because it won’t be as strong once the broth is added.
  • In place of tofu, other fake meats can be used: mock duck, seitan, etc.
  • Instead of soy sauce, I like to use Bragg’s Liquid Aminos.
  • Most of the time when I see a recipe calling for “salt”, I tend to use mushroom seasoning instead.  It’s found in Asian stores in sealed packets.  The seasoning itself is in the shape of small light brown granules and it adds a lot of flavor with very little salt (and no MSG according to all the packages I’ve seen).  To me, there doesn’t seem to be a noticeable difference in taste.
  • Since I’ve found that we use up the “meat” mixture halfway thru the broth, I recommend doubling this portion of the recipe (except for the tofu unless you love tofu).  You know the large packs of mushrooms you can get from Costco?  I use the whole thing.
  • I like to use at least two of the following at bare minimum: cilantro, green onions, Thai basil, mint.  Since it’s pretty hard for me to get my hands on Thai basil, I usually stick to green onions and cilantro.

Vegan Pho

Serves 6-8

Broth ingredients:

  • 12 c water
  • 1-2 large leeks (leaves only)
  • 1 onion (skin removed, cut in half)
  • 2-4″ bruised ginger

Broth spices:

  • 3-4″ cinnamon stick
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 1 cardamom
  • 5 whole star anise
  • 6 whole cloves

Added to broth later, all to taste:

  • 1/8 c soy sauce
  • 3/4 to 1 tbsp salt
  • 3 tsp sugar

“Meat” mixture ingredients:

  • Oil, as needed
  • 1 pkg water-packed tofu, drained, cubed
  • 1-2 large leek stems (more if they’re small)
  • 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • Soy sauce, to taste
  • Salt, to taste
  • Black pepper, to taste

Fresh vegetables:

  • Bean sprouts
  • At least two of the following: cilantro, green onion, Thai basil, mint
  • Jalapeños, sliced
  • Lime wedges

Noodles:

  • 1 pkg dry/fresh flat rice noodles (I’ve used glass rice noodles in a pinch)

Side condiments which are essentially necessary, in my opinion:

  • Sriracha hot sauce
  • Hoisin sauce

DIRECTIONS:

Bring water to boil in med sized pot.  While waiting, add in: leek leaves, onion, ginger, spices in mesh bag (I’ve used a coffee filter tied with yarn).  After reaching boiling, bring down to simmer and leave covered for 45-60 min until onion and ginger is softened.  Remove onion, ginger, leeks, spice bag; add soy sauce, sugar, and salt to taste.

While waiting for the broth to cook, make the “meat” mixture.  Sauté tofu if desired, add mushrooms and sauté, lastly add leek stems till cooked.  Season with soy sauce, salt, and black pepper to taste.  (I added torn kale to my most recent batch.  You can use most any veggies: bok choy, carrots, baby corn, Napa cabbage, etc.)

Prepare fresh vegetables: clean bean sprouts and greenery (cilantro, green onions, mint, Thai basil–whatever you’ve chosen), slice jalapeños, cut lime wedges.

Prepare the flat rice noodles according to directions.  If using dry noodles, I like to prepare them the following way: break noodles into appropriate eating length and place in a bowl, pour hot water over the noodles until covered, cover the bowl and let it sit approx 2-3 min until noodles are pliable but not fully cooked, finally drain the noodles.

Arrange noodles topped with “meat” mixture and cover with hot broth.  Add your desired amount of fresh vegetables.  Stir in Sriracha hot sauce and hoisin sauce to taste.

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The first time I made this, I was blown away at how much our place smelled just like a pho restaurant.  And the broth?  So good.  I made some earlier this week and we just about inhaled two bowls a piece.  I don’t know if any Vietnamese friends would call this legitimate pho, but I do know it sure tasted like it to me.

My inner Asian is now satisfied.

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2 thoughts on “Vegan Pho is Phine Dining

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