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Vegan Pho - Pho Chay

Vegan Pho - Pho Chay

4 Servings

00:15 Prep

1:30 Cook

Moderate - You'll be right

A little known fact here in Australia is that there are many Vietnamese vegan and vegetarian recipes that exist due to the prevalence of Buddhism in Vietnamese culture. Growing up, our family would often attend temple to observe cultural celebrations, and its there that I first experienced pho chay (vegetarian or vegan pho). Pho chay is a perfect vegetarian dish that can be devoured for breakfast, lunch or a healthy vegetarian dinner. Think your usual pho noodles but steeped in a homemade broth of rich vegetable flavours and served with the most umami mushrooms. Because the broth is made with only vegetables, this pho recipe is both vegetarian and vegan-friendly.

It’s often said that every Vietnamese family make their pho bo (beef pho) differently, to which I completely agree. This applies even more so to pho chay. I’ve been fortunate to have experienced vegetarian pho on the streets of Vietnam, at home, in auntie’s houses, and in Buddhist temples across Australia and Vietnam, and can say with confidence that they’ve all tasted different.

However, the most memorable bowl I’ve had was as a sixteen year old at our family temple. I didn’t expect much of vegan pho, thinking beef pho was the only variation that existed, but gave it a go because my grandma, who was a great cook, volunteered daily in the temple’s kitchen. She insisted I have a bowl of pho chay and you guessed it, I was completely blown away at how the flavour was achieved without the use of a premium fish sauce, anchovy salt and meat. Instead, the sweetness in the soup was from the slow simmering of fragrant vegetables and plant based meat (mock meat).

This pho is a culmination of her recipe and the best bowls of vegetarian pho I’ve had the privilege of consuming since—with a twist. Rather than using plant based meat (mock meat), I’ve substituted with a medley of mushrooms, cooked using a special technique to unlock it’s umami flavours. When mushrooms are fried over a period of time with water, their natural umami flavours intensify and the texture becomes meaty. Another trick you’ll find in this recipe is one I picked up from observing pho chay being cooked at temple; adding generous amounts of peeled zucchinis gives the broth an unexpected gentle sweet and savoury earthy profile.

If you’re after the perfect vegetarian or vegan-friendly pho, or just want a clean and meat-free alternative, look no further than this recipe. Do yourself a favour and give it a whirl!

Vegan Pho - Pho Chay
Vegan Pho - Pho Chay

Ingredients:

Vegetarian broth:

  • 1 medium daikon radish or 3 turnips, peeled and cut into small chunks

  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into small chunks

  • 5 zucchinis, peeled and cut into chunks

  • 2 corn ears, cut into chunks

  • 1 brown onion, bottom cut off

  • 1 knob of ginger

  • 1 bunch spring onion stalks

  • 1 bunch coriander roots

  • 2 tablespoon sea salt

  • 4–4.5L water

  • 1 Duncan Lu’s Pho Spices Sachet*



Other:

  • 600g pho rice noodles

  • 2 tablespoons neutral cooking oil

  • 500g button mushrooms, halved

  • 100g fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced

  • 150g oyster mushrooms, halved

  • 750ml water

  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

  • 300g fried tofu or 200g tofu puffs, sliced

  • Cracked black pepper

  • Hoisin sauce

  • 250g bean sprouts

  • 1 bunch spring onion tops, finely chopped

  • 1 bunch coriander tops, roughly chopped

  • 1 bunch Thai basil

  • 1 bunch saw tooth coriander (optional)

  • 2 birds eye chillies, sliced (optional)


*Ingredients: 8g coriander seeds, 8g fennel seeds, 4g star anise, 5g cassia bark, 3g black peppercorns, 4g licorice root (optional), 4 g black cardamom, 18g rock sugar or white sugar, 1g cloves

Method:

Vegetarian broth:
1. In a large stock pot, add all pho broth ingredients (except pho spices) and bring to the boil. Simmer on low for 60 minutes, then strain and discard all vegetables.

2. In the meantime, soak pho noodles in cold water for 60 minutes, then strain and set aside.

3. In a large fry pan on medium-high, add cooking oil and sauté mushrooms with a pinch of sea salt until they sweat and their moisture evaporates.

4. Add water in 150ml increments, bring to the boil then cook until water evaporates. Repeat this step four times until remaining water is used.

Duncan’s tip
: Cooking mushrooms using this method intensifies their natural umami flavour and gives them a firm and meaty texture.

5. Once pho broth has been strained, add Duncan Lu’s pho spices and fried mushrooms and simmer for 20 minutes. Add tofu and simmer for another 10 minutes. Season broth with sea salt and sugar as required.

Duncan’s tip
: Slightly over-season the broth as the rice noodles and garnishes, will balance out the savouriness.

Let’s make a bowl of vegan pho!
1. In serving size batches, place rice noodles in boiling water for 45-60 seconds or until soft but al dente, strain well then place in a serving bowl.

2. Using a soup ladle, pour the pho broth over the noodles making sure to include some of the cooked mushrooms and tofu. Add cracked black pepper then garnish with spring onions, coriander, Thai basil, saw tooth coriander and sliced chilli. Serve hot with hoisin sauce on the side for dipping the tofu.

Duncan’s tip
: For this pho variation refrain from adding hoisin sauce to the broth as it will overpower and its natural sweetness.

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