This easy vegan pho recipe is made with the most delicious rich broth and your choice of veggies (plus tofu, if you’d like).
My vegetarian husband absolutely loves a big bowl of steaming hot pho just as much as I do. But after hitting up dozens of Vietnamese restaurants together over the years, I’ve been surprised to learn that the vast majority of restaurants still do not offer vegetarian broth options for their pho (or other noodle soups, for that matter). I mean — we get it — authentic pho is always traditionally made with beef broth. But still, the world needs some non-traditional vegetarian and vegan options for this cozy comfort food too!
Thus, Barclay and I have been on a little mission this past year to figure out how to make really good vegetarian pho for ourselves here at home. And after experimenting with a dozen or so different recipes and techniques, I’m pleased to report that we’ve landed on a great version that is actually even easier to make than its traditional counterpart, plus it has the added bonus of being completely vegan too.
Best of all, it is delicious. ♡
As someone who has always loved traditional beef pho myself, I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical about whether or not a plant-based pho could really achieve that rich depth of flavor that is found in traditional meat-based broths. But as Barclay and I came to realize, it’s the charred onion, ginger and warming spices found in traditional pho broths are really the stars of the show. And once this rich vegetable broth is paired with savory umami mushrooms, fresh veggies, chewy rice noodles, plus fresh herbs and garnishes galore, this vegan pho will rival traditional beef pho any day, in my opinion! I also love it because it’s incredibly hearty, without feeling too heavy. And on chilly winter nights when you don’t want to head out to a restaurant, it is the most delicious way to warm up at home.
So if you happen to be vegan or vegetarian — or if you also live in a household with mixed eaters, or are looking to incorporate more plant-based recipes into your rotation — I would highly recommend giving this vegan pho recipe a try. It’s the version of pho that we make most often in our house. And we absolutely love it.
Vegan Pho Ingredients:
Alright, a few notes about ingredients before we get to the recipe. To make this vegan pho soup recipe, you will need:
- Veggies: We typically follow the lead of our favorite vegetarian-friendly Vietnamese restaurant here in Barcelona, and add a mixture of baby bok choy, shiitake mushrooms and sliced carrots to our veggie pho. But feel free to toss in any other soup-friendly veggies that you have on hand, such as cabbage, bell peppers, broccoli, edamame, snow peas, or other types of Asian mushrooms.
- Thin rice noodles: Traditional pho is made with thin rice noodles, such as these. In order to prevent the noodles from overcooking in the broth, it’s traditional to cook pho noodles separately on their own. The noodles will then be added to each individual serving bowl, and veggies, hot broth and toppings will be layered on top of the noodles.
- Pho broth: To make the most delicious vegan pho broth, you will need the following elements:
- Fresh onions and ginger: Which we will briefly cook in a skillet (or you can pop them under the broiler in your oven) until they are charred, to add that classic smoky flavor to the broth.
- Vegetable stock: In order to save us all an extra few hours of cooking veggie stock from scratch, I’ve written this recipe using store-bought vegetable stock as a shortcut.
- Spices: There are 5 important spices in pho broth — star anise, whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, and coriander seeds. I really recommend using the whole (not ground) spices, if possible, which we will briefly toast to bring out extra flavor. But see notes below for ground spice substitutions, if needed.
- Soy sauce and rice vinegar: In lieu of traditional fish sauce, we’ll sub in soy sauce (or gluten-free tamari) and rice vinegar.
- Sweetener: I used brown sugar to sweeten my broth instead of traditional yellow rock sugar, but really, any sweetener you prefer would work.
- Sea salt: As always, to season your broth.
- Toppings, toppings, toppings: This is one soup recipe where the toppings are not optional — they are essential to flavor delicious pho broth! Feel free to pick and choose your favorites, but I recommend at least one from each category:
- Fresh herbs: The more the merrier — fresh herbs are essential for flavoring pho broth! I highly recommend a combo of fresh cilantro, fresh mint and fresh Thai basil (or Italian basil, in a pinch).
- Bean sprouts: You can find these in the produce section of your grocery store, or they are always available in Asian groceries.
- Lime wedges: A must for brightening up the broth.
- Chiles (optional): Either sliced Thai bird chiles, jalapeños, or serrano peppers are optional if you would like to add some heat.
- Onions (optional): Either sliced green onions or very-thinly-sliced white onions as a garnish.
- Sauces (optional): It’s also traditional to serve pho with hoisin sauce and/or sriracha, which can be drizzled on the soup as an extra garnish.
See the recipe box below for full ingredient amounts/instructions.
How To Make Pho Soup:
Here are the basics steps for how to make homemade vegan pho. The full instructions are detailed in the recipe box below, as always.
- Make the broth. Char the onion and garlic (either in a skillet or under the broiler). Meanwhile, briefly toast the spices in a large stockpot. Add in the onion, garlic, and broth. Then cover and let everything simmer together for at least 30 minutes so that all of those flavors can meld. Strain out and discard all of the onions, garlic and spices. Then stir in the remaining broth ingredients and mushrooms (see below) and season with salt.
- Cook the veggies. Meanwhile, as the broth is simmering, sauté the mushrooms in a separate pan until cooked through and lightly golden. Then once the onions, garlic and spices have been strained out of the broth, stir the mushrooms, baby bok choy and sliced carrots into the broth for the final 5 minutes before serving.
- Cook the noodles. Meanwhile, as the broth is simmering, cook the noodles al dente according to the package instructions. Drain in a strainer, then toss briefly with cold water to prevent the noodles from continuing to cook, and set aside. (I also recommend tossing the noodles with a drizzle of oil — such as sesame oil — to prevent them from sticking.)
- Assemble. Once everything is ready to go, add a handful of noodles to each individual serving bowl. Then ladle the simmering hot broth (with veggies) into the serving bowls. Top with lots and lots of garnishes.
- Serve. And serve warm, encouraging everyone to stir the garnishes into the soup so that they can flavor the broth.
Want to customize your own homemade pho recipe? Feel free to…
- Add tofu: We also loved adding tofu (either soft or crispy baked tofu) to this vegan pho, if you feel like adding an extra step to the recipe.
- Add extra veggies: As mentioned above, just about any soup-friendly veggies will work in this recipe, such as shredded cabbage, bell peppers, broccoli, edamame, snow peas, or other types of Asian mushrooms. It would also be fun to add in some zoodles to go along with the rice noodles!
- Add fennel seeds: If you happen to have fennel seeds in your spice cabinet, add a teaspoon in along with the other spices for extra flavor.
- Add miso paste: This is a bit non-traditional, but we tried adding in 2 tablespoons of white miso paste to our broth (dissolved in a ladle of hot broth, before being added to the stockpot). And it was delicious. If you happen to have some on hand, I highly recommend adding it in.
- Skip sautéing the mushrooms: If you would like to save a step, you’re welcome to also just cook the sliced mushrooms directly in the hot broth for 10 minutes before serving. (Or if you have more time on your hands, I would recommend sautéing them in the broth for an hour to really let the mushrooms flavor the broth.)
- Use ground (instead of whole) spices: I really recommend using whole spices for this recipe if you can. But in a pinch, feel free to substitute their ground equivalents. Those substitutions would roughly be: 2.5 teaspoons ground star anise, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, 1.5 teaspoons ground cinnamon, pinch of ground cardamom, 2 teaspoons ground coriander.
- Instant Pot pho: If you would like to make the broth in the Instant Pot (pressure cooker), first use the “sauté” setting to char the onions and ginger. Then add in the spices and stock. Cover, seal, and cook (manual high pressure) for 10 minutes, followed by a quick release. Add in the remaining ingredients as directed in the recipe.
- Crock-Pot pho: If you you would like to make the broth in the Crock-Pot (slow cooker), add the onion, ginger, spices and stock to the bowl of a large slow cooker and stir to combine. (You are welcome to char the onion and ginger beforehand, if you would like, then add them to the Crock-Pot.) Cover and cook on high for 3 hours or on low for 6 hours*. Add in the remaining ingredients as directed in the recipe. *If it seems that much of the broth has evaporated while cooking, just add in a cup or so of extra water.
Vegan Pho FAQ:
A few final thoughts before we get to the recipe:
- What is the proper “pho” pronunciation? Popular question! The name of this soup in Vietnamese is pronounced “fuh” (not “faux”).
- How do you serve pho? Pho soup is traditionally served in large bowls with chopsticks and a soup spoon. But of course, use whatever dishes you have. ♡
- How exactly are you supposed to eat pho? First, use your chopsticks to stir all of those garnishes into the broth to help give it extra flavor. (You can later pick them out, if you don’t want to eat stems, chiles, etc.) Then alternately, use your chopsticks to eat the noodles and veggies, while using your spoon to eat the broth. In Vietnam, it’s also encouraged to lift up your bowl to drink the last of the broth, if you would like.
- Is pho gluten-free? Yes, this pho soup recipe is naturally gluten-free if you use GF tamari (instead of soy sauce).
- Make ahead instructions? Nearly all of the components of this recipe can be prepped in advance, if you would like. (Which would make this recipe even easier if serving it to a big group.) For example, the noodles and broth can be prepared and then refrigerated (separately) in sealed containers until ready to reheat and serve.
- Storage instructions? I recommend refrigerating the broth, veggies, noodles and garnishes in separate containers, so that the noodles do not soak up all of the broth. But the cooked soup (with the ingredients stored separately or mixed together) can be refrigerated in sealed containers for up to 3 days.
This easy vegan pho recipe is made with the most delicious rich broth and your choice of veggies (plus tofu, if you’d like). I highly recommend making a double batch while you’re at it!
PHO BROTH INGREDIENTS:
- 1 large white onion, peeled and halved
- 3-inch piece of fresh ginger, halved lengthwise
- 5 star anise
- 4 whole cloves
- 3 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
- 2 cardamom pods
- 1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
- 8 cups good-quality vegetable stock (or mushroom stock*)
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
- 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
- fine sea salt, to taste
PHO SOUP INGREDIENTS:
- 7 ounces uncooked thin rice noodles
- 1 tablespoon olive oil (or any neutral-flavored oil)
- 8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 2 heads baby bok choy, halved
- optional: 1-2 cups extra veggies (such as sliced carrots, broccoli florets, snow peas, etc.)
- garnishes: fresh herbs (cilantro, mint, and/or Thai basil), bean sprouts, lime wedges, thinly-sliced chiles (Thai bird chiles or jalapeños), thinly-sliced onions (green onions or white onions), sauces (hoisin and/or sriracha)
- Char the onions and garlic. Turn the oven broiler to high, and place the baking rack about 8 inches away from the heating elements. Place the onion and ginger cut-side-up on a baking sheet, and brush with a bit of oil. Broil for about 7-10 minutes, until the tops of the onion and garlic are slightly charred. Remove and set aside.
- Prep the noodles. Meanwhile, as your broth is simmering, cook the noodles separately al dente according to the package instructions. Drain in a strainer, then briefly rinse the noodles with cold water to prevent them from continuing to cook. (I also recommend tossing the noodles with a drizzle of oil — such as sesame oil — to prevent them from sticking.)
- Make the broth. Meanwhile, heat the anise, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and coriander to a large stock pot over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes until fragrant. Add in the charred onion, garlic, stock, and stir to combine. Continue cooking until the broth reaches a simmer. Then reduce heat to medium-low, cover with a lid, and continue to simmer for at least 30 minutes. Strain out (and discard) the onions, ginger and spices. Stir the brown sugar, soy sauce and rice vinegar into the hot broth. Then finally, taste and season the broth with salt as needed. Continue simmering on medium-low, covered, until ready to serve.
- Cook the veggies. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the sliced mushrooms and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cooked through and lightly golden. Remove from heat. Then 5 minutes before you are ready to serve the soup, stir the mushrooms, bok choy and veggies into the hot broth so that they can briefly cook.
- Assemble. And now…the fun part! Add a handful of noodles to each individual serving bowl. Ladle the hot broth and veggies into the serving bowls. Top each bowl with lots and lots of garnishes, and finish with a generous squeeze of lime juice.
- Serve immediately. Encouraging everyone to stir the garnishes into the soup so that they can flavor the broth, also adding in additional extra sauces if desired.
- Alternate mushroom option: If you would like to skip sautéing the mushrooms on the side, you are welcome to cook them directly in the simmering broth itself. They need at least 10 minutes to cook, although the longer they simmer in there, the more delicious your broth will be.
- Alternate charring option: Instead of broiling the onion and ginger in the oven, you can also just cook them cut-side-down in a sauté pan over high heat until charred.
- Double batch: Again, I highly recommend making a double batch of this recipe while you’re at it! To do so, you will need a large stockpot (at least 5 quarts) to handle the quantity of broth.
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