Friday, January 28, 2011


Readers, I don't know why I haven't made Pho before. I love the fragrant soup, the drama of adding toppings to your bowls, fixing the spiciness with green chilies and siracha sauce. It's hard to find vegetarian pho, at many Vietnamese restaurants, their vegetarian option is a version of Tom Yum, spicy and sour and delicious, but I end up jealous of my meat-eating friends and their bowls that smell of cinnamon and ginger and star anise.

In the Bay Area you can find several vegetarian vietnamese restaurants, and my favorite is Tofoo Com Chay in San Jose.   I think the owners of these restaurants are followers of Supreme Master Ching Hai and her message of veganism and climate responsibility.  Supreme Master fliers are on hand in the restaurant--I particularly like the messages from the animals.

This recipe makes enough broth for 8 servings of pho.  Or you could do what I did, have some that night, and save the broth in the freezer for 6 more bowls of pho! 

It's a very simple broth that can be adapted in your bowls.  Top it as you like, with more or less chilies and vegetables and herbs.  We can't find many of the garnishes provided in California pho shops like Thai Basil or culantro, so we just use cilantro and mint.  The first night I made the pho, we had tofu, the second we used my victory seitan. We found some pea sprouts at the local grocery, and that was really good.  Anything goes!

An added bonus: our house smelled amazing while the broth was simmering!

Vegetarian Pho
Makes 8 servings
Takes 1 (busy) hour

For Broth
2 medium onions
1 4-inch piece of ginger
1 cinnamon stick
5-6 stars of anise
6 cloves

For Bowls
Steamed cabbage
Bean sprouts
Pea sprouts
Sliced shallots
Sliced green onions
Green Chilis

In the broiler or on the stove, char the onions and garlic until the skins are mostly blackened.  Let cool.

In a large pot, on medium heat, toast the cinnamon, star anise and cloves until they are very toasty and fragrant (do not burn!).  Add 10 cups of water, and bring to a boil on medium high heat.

Meanwhile, your ginger and onions should be cool.  Peel the onions and ginger, and then rinse them under water to remove all the charred bits.  Chop coarsely and add to the pot.  When the pot comes to a boil, turn the heat down to simmer, cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes.

While that is happening you can prep your ingredients for the bowls.  For the noodles, place the dry noodles in a large heat-proof bowl and cover with bowling water.  Cover the bowl and let steep for 20 minutes.  This should be enough to cook the noodles, but gently simmer them for 5 to 10 minutes more if they are not cooked.

I like to cut my tofu into blocks and saute them on medium heat until golden on all sides.  I then cut them into little rectangles.

Thinly slice shallots and green onions, green chilies.  You can't see it in any of the pictures, but I gently steamed some cabbage for our pho as well.

By this time your broth should be ready.  Uncover the pot and take in the amazing smell.  Drain, very carefully, it's a big pot of hot liquid! Return the broth to very low heat and add 1 Tablespoon of salt.  Keep it warm, assemble your bowls.

Check the saltiness of the broth and add as much more salt as you like.  You can later add soy sauce or hoisin sauce to the individual bowls.  Pour into the bowls and enjoy! 

Thanks ladies!


  1. I CAN'T WAIT TO MAKE THIS. And I love your new logo. Asian foods are tricky for both veggies and gluten-free(ies) because of hidden fish(ies) and wheat(ies) but the point is: make it yourself! GREAT!

  2. Just Make it Yourself! Thanks Olivia - I'm glad you like the new logo.

  3. WOW!! two hungry mouths watering in chidambaram.

  4. This is cool, the Indian in me wants to sautee the garlic, ginger and onions to start. Is that just plain wrong?

  5. No garlic! Just ginger and onions. It's a good thought, Vimal, since so much Indian food begins that way. In Indian food, you want that carmelization, that big, pungent flavor of the ginger, garlic and onions.

    But, in this soup, the broth is very delicate, and the big star is the cinnamon and the star anise. Roasting the ginger and onion (and removing the blackened skin), kind of steams them, and brings out the sweetness. And there's no oil in the broth this way.