This vegan pho recipe will appease all your cravings for a delicious, intensely flavoured vegetarian pho. Thick slurpy rice noodles in a deliciously spiced umami broth and topped with smoky crumbled tofu, sweet frizzled onion, fresh herbs and sprouts. A bowl of soup so good you won’t believe that this vegan pho is made 100% from scratch in less than one hour!
I have yet to experience a good vegan pho in a restaurant. The ones I’ve had have always just been noodles and vegetables in a miso broth. That’s so lazy and uncreative! I mean, if I wanted a vegetable miso soup, I’d just make it myself at home (or go to a Japanese restaurant)! Pho isn’t pho without all the spices and the deep umami broth, a smoky, meaty element, lime, fresh herbs and chilies on top.
Just like with my vegan clam chowder, I’ve also been working on trying to come up with a good vegan pho recipe for quite some time now. As you know, it usually takes several hours to make as boiling bones and other gross things takes a long time.
You don’t need to worry that making a vegetarian pho will take a long time, though. Even when you make a vegetable stock from scratch it doesn’t need more than an hour maximum to extract all the flavour from the vegetables. It’s pointless to simmer vegetables for longer than that.
You’ll see lots of other vegan pho recipes on the internet advertising themselves as “quick vegan pho - ready in just 30 minutes!”. They rely on packaged vegetable stock with a few spices thrown in and simmered together. However, with just another 15 minutes of simmering time, you can make your own deeply flavoured, preservative- and salt-free homemade vegetable stock from fresh veggies!
I’m lucky that my local supermarket offers packages of vegetables specifically for making stock (and they generally cost under $2.00 per pack!). They usually contain some combination of carrots, celery tops, turnips, parsnips and leeks. To that I add onion (which I blacken in the pot first to add additional flavour), ginger, garlic and whatever other veggie scraps I happen to have lying around.
If you’re the kind of person who freezes vegetable peelings and scraps for stock, throw all that in (if you’re not that kind of person, you should be, haven’t you seen this video?).
While the vegetable stock and the spices are easy, what’s been perplexing me for years with vegan pho is how to get the right kind of umami and depth of flavour. I’ve tried LOTS of different things. Miso is just the wrong flavour, Marmite made it bitter for some reason. Soy sauce is too salty and, imo, distracts from some of the delicate spices and flavours.
My favourite umami turned out to be Maggi Liquid Seasoning (the company indicates that it is suitable for vegans). The flavour is hard to describe – it’s umami and adds a touch of sweetness to vegan pho, less saltiness than soy sauce and brings out the flavours of the spices better.
Although it’s not so well-known in North America, Maggi is common in pretty much every other cuisine in the world so you may be able to find it in large supermarkets in the ethnic food aisle or in an Asian supermarket. If you can’t find it, you can go ahead and use soy sauce.
So while your vegetable stock is simmering, you can prepare the noodles and various toppings. I took the idea for the crumbled seasoned tofu and sweet frizzled green onion from my (amazing!) vegan ramen recipe.
The smokiness from the tofu is another key pho element that is essential to recreate in any vegetarian pho recipe worth its salt, in addition to its meaty texture. If you don’t want to use tofu, you can also choose a meaty mushroom and prepare it in the same way.
Get yourself a spoon, a pair of chopsticks, a big-ass bowl of this vegan pho and prepare for your mind to be blown!
Wanna see how to make this vegan pho recipe? Watch the video:
For the broth:
- 1 medium onion roughly chopped -$0.14
- A chunk (about 8 cm / 3 inches) of ginger roughly chopped - $0.15
- 3 star anise - $0.20
- 3 cloves - $0.01
- 2 sticks of cinnamon - $0.57
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds - $0.02
- 5 cloves of garlic roughly chopped - $0.20
- 700 grams (25 oz) mixed vegetables and/or vegetable scraps for stock (I had carrots, turnips, parsnips, celery tops and leek – see photo), roughly chopped - $1.49
- 3 dried shiitake mushrooms - $0.32
- 3 litres (3.2 quarts) water - $0.00
- Maggi Liquid Seasoning or soy sauce to taste (I added about 1 ½ tablespoons) - $0.28
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt to taste - $0.03
For the soup:
- 2 - 3 tablespoons neutral oil divided - $0.15
- 200 grams (7oz) extra-firm tofu mashed with a fork - $0.80
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce - $0.10
- 1 teaspoon miso paste - $0.11
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar - $0.04
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika - $0.12
- 3 green onions very thinly sliced into matchsticks and white and light green parts separated from dark green parts - $0.45
- 1 head of bok choy leaves separated and larger ones chopped - $0.33
- 250 grams (9 oz) wide rice noodles - $3.50
- 200 grams (7 oz) bean sprouts - $1.59
- A small bunch of cilantro and/or basil (Thai basil if you can get it) - $1.19
- 1 lime quartered - $0.43
- 1 long red chili pepper sliced - $0.48
- Heat a very large pot over medium-high heat and add the onion and ginger. Fry, stirring frequently, until they begin to char and blacken. This should take about 10 minutes. Be careful no to let the bottom of the pot burn or else it will make your soup bitter.
- Add the star anise, cloves and cinnamon and dry roast for a couple more minutes until fragrant. Add the coriander seeds and give them 20 – 30 seconds to release their aroma.
- Add the garlic, veggies, shiitakes and water. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to just a bare simmer. Leave for 45 minutes until the stock is dark and flavourful. Strain and add Maggi liquid seasoning (or soy sauce) and salt to taste.
- Meanwhile, heat a small pan over medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon of oil. Once hot add the tofu and fry until crispy. Combine the soy sauce, miso paste, rice vinegar and paprika in a small bowl and pour over the tofu. Fry until the liquid is evaporated and the tofu is crisp. Remove to a plate.
- Reduce the heat under the pan to medium and add an additional 2 – 3 tablespoons of oil to the pan. Add the matchstick white and light green parts of the green onion. Allow to fry until golden brown – about 5 – 10 minutes, then remove to a paper-towel lined plate.
- Bring a large pot of water to the boil and cook the bok choy until the stems are tender. Remove to a plate then add the rice noodles to the pot. Boil until al dente then strain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process.
- Divide the noodles between four bowls and ladle over the hot stock. Top with the bok choy, tofu, bean sprouts, frizzled green onion, dark green parts of the green onion, chili pepper, lime slices and cilantro/basil.
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