Phở Chay (Vegetarian Pho)

Phở is as Vietnamese as sushi is Japanese, at least it is over here in most of North America. This ubiquitous noodle soup dish is the first thing that comes to my mind when I think Vietnamese food, and while it’s not the only dish I love, it’s one of my favorite things to have on a cold, rainy Vancouver day.

Phở bò or beef noodle soup is the most common version of phở you’ll find – it’s also the one my mom still makes vats of for family dinners. Although a lot of popular Vietnamese dishes are centered around meat, Vietnam also has a rich culinary tradition of great vegetarian eats, usually reserved for days of religious observance from the Buddhist faith.

So to celebrate a great traditional Vietnamese dish and match it with meatless option, here’s my recipe for Phở Chay or vegetarian pho. This completely vegan version doesn’t lose any points on flavor and goes well with any kind of chewy protein (I’m particular to slices of fried tofu).

You’ll need:

1 large yellow onions
Small piece of ginger (4 inches)
Small Saigon cinnamon stick (3 inches)
3 star anise
3 whole cloves
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 daikon, peeled and cut into large slices
8 cups of vegetable broth* (2 litres)
1 small chunk rock sugar

Fresh pho noodles (Bánh Phở Tươi)
Vegetarian fish sauce / light soy sauce to taste
Mung bean sprouts, fresh mint, coriander, Thai basil, limes, Sriracha chili hot sauce for garnishing

1) In an oven or over a hot grill, broil the onions and ginger for 10-15 minutes, or until the the outsides are slightly charred and the onions start to “sweat”. If you’re doing this in your oven, turn up the fan and open the windows because it’s gonna get smokey. Don’t skip this step because it brings out the sweetness of the onion and deep, mellow flavor of the ginger.

2) In a large pot, add the stock and bring it to a boil over high heat then lower just till it simmers.

3) Wash and peel the onions until cool running water, cut them in half and add to the stock. Smash the ginger and add it to the stock, along with the star anise, cinnamon, cloves, and daikon.

4) Simmer for 45 minutes to an 1 hour. Add salt and soy sauce to taste. You may not need to add much depending on the type of stock you use.

5) Ladle the hot soup over your prepared noodles and protein. Garnish with fresh herbs, lime, and hot sauce to suit your personal phở-lovin’ tastes. Enjoy!

*The flavor of your pho will vary depending on the type of vegetable stock you use. I use and recommend a more “Asian” configuration that has mushrooms, carrots, and cabbage, which gives the nice deep flavor that beef-based pho soup has.

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