Vegan Vietnamese Pho

Not long ago I had a delicious vegan pho in a Vietnamese restaurant in New York City. The broth was heady with sweet spices and, like the traditional meaty soup, was served with rice noodles, bean sprouts and fresh herbs. I asked the waiter if he knew how the chef made the stock, and the sous chef came out and told me it involved lots of vegetables and a combination of spices.

I tried and tested numerous combinations or vegetables and spices and this recipe here I must say beats out all other vegan broths I have tasted.

Serves: 4 to 6


For the Vegan Broth
  • 1 large onion (about 1/2 pound), peeled and quartered
  • 1 3-inch piece of fresh ginger
  • 3 quarts water
  • 1 pound leeks (1 1/2 large), tough ends cut away, halved lengthwise, cleaned and cut in thick slices
  • 2 medium turnips (about 10 ounces), peeled and cut in wedges
  • 1 pound carrots (3 large), peeled and sliced thick
  • 2 ounces mushroom stems (from about 8 ounces mushrooms), or 4 dried shiitakes
  • 1 head of garlic, cut in half
  • 2 stalks lemon grass, trimmed, smashed with the side of a knife, and sliced
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar (to taste), preferably raw brown sugar
  • 6 star anise pods
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • A 2- to 3-inch cinnamon stick
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons vegan fish sauce (nuoc mam), to taste (optional)
For the Noodles and Asparagus
  • 3/4 pound wide rice noodles
  • 1 pound asparagus, woody stems trimmed away and cut on the diagonal into 2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup Asian or purple basil leaves, slivered
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 to 4 bird or serrano chilies, finely chopped (to taste)
  • 6 mint sprigs
  • 3 to 4 limes, cut in wedges


For the Vegan Broth
  1. Scorch the onion and ginger by holding the pieces above a flame with tongs, or in a dry frying pan if using an electric stove. Turn the pieces until they are scorched black in places on all sides. Slice the ginger lengthwise.
  2. Combine the scorched onion and ginger with the water, leeks, turnips, carrots, mushroom stems or dried shiitakes, garlic, lemon grass, salt to taste and 1 tablespoon sugar in a large soup pot and bring to a boil. 
  3. Tie the spices in a cheesecloth bag and add to the soup. 
  4. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour. Add the fish sauce if using, and simmer for another hour (2 hours total, with or without the fish sauce). 
  5. Strain through a cheesecloth-lined strainer. 
  6. Taste and adjust salt and sugar.
To assemble the Vegan Vietnamese Pho
  1. Have the broth at a simmer in a soup pot.
  2. Steam or blanch the asparagus for 2 to 3 minutes, just until crisp-tender. Set aside.
  3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the noodles. Cook until just al dente, firm to the bite, following the timing instructions on the package (my wide noodles take about 5 minutes).
  4. Drain and divide among 4 to 6 large soup bowls. 
  5. Distribute the asparagus among the bowls and ladle in a generous amount of hot broth. 
  6. Sprinkle on half the cilantro, half the basil leaves and the green onions. 
  7. Use the chopped chilies, mint sprigs and the remaining basil and cilantro for guests to add as desired, and the lime wedges to squeeze on. 
  8. Enjoy!