If you owned a Vietnamese pho restaurant, what would you name it? Around here, we have “What the Pho?”, “Pho Shizzle,” and then there’s just straight-up “Pho King.” I guess if I opened a pho (pronounced “fuh”) place, I’d have a hard time resisting getting punny, too. Maybe I’d call mine “Pho the Love of All That is Good and Holy.”
Orrrr … yeah. Maybe I’ll just make vegetarian pho from scratch at home now and then, and that’ll be plenty good enough.
So surely you have had (and love) pho, right? Giant bowls of comforting rice noodles swimming in a steamy, aromatic broth (think savory joining up with cloves, star anise, and cinnamon). Traditionally, pho is made with beef – but when us vegetarians get lucky, a pho restaurant will serve a gorgeous vegetarian broth punctuated with tofu, mushrooms, maybe even some broccoli, carrots, or bok choy.
But at its core, pho is noodles and broth. And then the sky is the limit. And when you make vegetarian pho from scratch, you can customize it how you like it, from the broth to what you put into your soup to what you top it with.
Oh, the toppings! Glorious, glorious pho toppings.
Most of the aforementioned punny restaurants around here put a big plate of Thai basil, bean sprouts, lime wedges, and jalapeno slices in front of you, along with some Hoisin sauce and Sriracha. Plop in a pepper for heat, pile with sprouts, tear up a whole bunch of basil and pile it on, squirt on some sauces, squeeze a little lime over the whole glorious mess … it’s all to your liking. That’s the beauty of pho.
So here’s the scoop on making it at home. I’ll be honest – I thought it would be pretty simple to do, but making vegetarian pho from scratch actually is a little time-consuming. The broth, of course, takes the longest to make, though most of that is cooking time. I like to double the recipe and freeze what’s left for (easier) homemade pho down the road.
Once the broth-makin’ is out of the way, you just cook the rice noodles and get all of the remaining soup ingredients and the toppings ready. I use dry noodles – just a quick two-minute-long dunk into boiling water and they’re ready.
For my meat-eating guy, I have the butcher at my local grocery store thinly slice some top round. The noodles go into the bowl, followed by a few slices of the raw beef, and then you pour the boiling broth over the top – it cooks the beef instantly.
Meanwhile, my vegetarian version gets a few sliced mushrooms and maybe a few cubes of tofu. And then we top.
Pho really is fun to make at home, and when you start with a (still-delicious!) meatless broth, you can customize individual bowls for carnivores and vegetarians alike.
Vegetarian Vietnamese soup pho the win!
Vegetarian Pho from Scratch (with Optional Beef for the Meat-Eaters)
- 12 cups water
- 3 medium sweet onions (peeled and quartered)
- 4 medium carrots (cut into 3-inch chunks)
- 1 medium bulb garlic (top cut off and halved)
- 1/2 cup dried shiitake or porcini mushrooms
- 1 stalk lemongrass (halved and smashed lightly)
- 2 thumb-size pieces of fresh ginger (sliced)
- 3 star anise
- 1 teaspoon whole cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 6- inch cinnamon stick
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- Kosher salt and/or a few dashes of soy sauce to taste
For the soup:
Banh Pho flat rice noodles (1 to 2 ounces per serving), plus any of the following:
- Cubed extra-firm tofu
- Sliced mushrooms
- Broccoli florets
- Sliced carrots
- Chopped baby bok choy
- Very thinly sliced top round steak (about 1/8 pound per serving)
- Fresh Thai basil
- Bean sprouts
- Fresh jalapeno slices
- Fresh lime wedges
- Hoisin sauce (be sure to find a vegetarian version)
- Sriracha sauce
Make the broth:
- Add all ingredients to a large stock pot and stir. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer uncovered for 45 minutes.
- Remove from heat and let cool until safe to handle. Place a colander over a large bowl and pour broth into colander. Discard solids. Strain one more time to remove all the bits and pieces: Place a fine-mesh sieve over the stock pot and pour the both back into the pot, through the sieve. Taste, adding salt if desired. Return to the stove and bring to a boil.
Cook the noodles:
- Either follow package directions, or, if no clear directions, bring a pot of water to boiling. Turn off heat. Add noodles to water and stir gently until softened, about 1 - 2 minutes. Strain noodles and rinse under cold water to prevent sticking.
- Assemble your soup!
- Add noodles to a large bowl. Top with vegetables, tofu, and/or beef, as desired. Carefully pour boiling-hot broth over the veggies/tofu/beef, taking care to dunk the beef under the broth so all of the beef cooks in the hot broth. The veggies will blanch in the broth, too, so they should be tender enough by the time you're ready to eat.
- Serve with assorted toppings.