Food/ Main Dishes/ Soups + Stews/ Vegetarian

Quick and Easy Vegetarian Pho

If you’ve ever made traditional pho from scratch, you know there’s nothing quick about it; it’s a labor of love that involves simmering beef bones, slow-roasting onions, and steeping aromatic spices.

With that, you’re also quite aware that there’s nothing vegetarian about it.

This vegetarian pho is the farthest thing from a traditional pho in that sense, but the flavor profile is damn near the same and I think I did it justice for a quick fix phony pho for my fellow pescetarians/vegetarians.

How I fell in love with pho.

I first tried pho eight years ago. The hype surrounding it escalated very quickly—the same way it did with sushi a few years prior. All of a sudden, everyone in my circle of friends was talking about it. “Let’s grab a bowl of pho” quickly became the new “Let’s grab coffee”. We’d pull and slurp our noodles mid-conversation while drowning our woes in the comfort of the aromatic broth spiced with cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, and star anise.

Mention pho, and the word euphoric comes to mind.

How pho came to be in the US.

I’m a bit of a food history nerd, and how pho came about in the US is truly a story about soothing one’s soul with a bowl of soup.

When refugees were fleeing Vietnam to escape communist rules and degrading economic conditions, the US was the country of choice thanks to the relationship between America and South Vietnam before the Fall of Saigon. Vietnamese refugees, feeling isolated in a new country, sought comfort in their own food—such as pho. Unfortunately, finding the right ingredients to create pho was a challenge in North America.

Years later, a few business-savvy Vietnamese imported these ingredients and started selling them at local Asian markets so that refugees could indulge in a cozy bowl of what tasted like home.

Having these ingredients available sparked a movement in opening pho shops and, as a result, US citizens were treated to a taste of Vietnam.

This is how pho was established in the US.

Anytime I see or eat pho, I reflect on this and the fact that people—no matter where they’re from or what they’ve been through—rely on finding comfort in food.

If there’s one thing we as human beings all have in common, it’s that.

The deal with this vegetarian pho.

Since pho isn’t pescetarian or vegetarian friendly, I needed to find a way to sate my craving.

One thing that stands out about pho is the aromatic broth. By toasting the spices and steeping them in a basic store-bought (or homemade) vegetable broth, you can totally get the flavor you covet. All that’s different is the lack of oiliness and richness from the bones, marrow, and fat. I guess you could consider this a lightened up broth.

Other than that, you’ve still got your silky rice noodles, punchy jalapeño, fresh basil and cilantro (or flat-leaf parsley for people like me who can’t stand cilantro), and whatever extra saucy fixin’s your little heart desires.

The best part? This pho takes a measly 30 minutes, if that, to make from beginning to end, as opposed to the six-ish hours it takes to make that bone broth. (Which is totally worth it if you’re an omnivore, though.)

I really hope this recipe brings the same comfort to others as it does to me. We all need easy comfort food for long days, for crummy days, and for lazy rainy days. I’ve got Ramen bowls for this too, y’all.

If you make this dish, snap a photo and tag me on the Insta @killing__thyme! I love seeing your creations.

Want to share your own pescetarian recipes, photos, and experiences? Join our Facebook group!

5 from 1 vote
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Quick and Easy Vegetarian Pho

This easy vegetarian pho brings the aromatics we love to the usual pho broth without the bones, and it's still hella good. It's also ready in just 30 minutes!

Course Entree, Soup
Cuisine Vietnamese
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 2
Author Dana Sandonato

Ingredients

  • 4 oz dried rice noodles

Broth.

  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2-3 TBSP tamari or low-sodium soy sauce If you're pescetarian, replace 1 TBSP with fish sauce
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 star anise
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 5 cardamom seeds, lightly crushed Buy cardamom pods and break them open to get the seeds.
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1/2 white onion, thinly sliced (preferably with a mandolin on the thinnest setting)

Toppings.

  • 1 jalapeño, thinly sliced
  • bean sprouts
  • Fresh Thai basil (can use regular basil) and cilantro or flat-leaf parsley
  • Lime wedges
  • Chili paste (sambal oelek)
  • Sriracha sauce
  • Hoisin sauce

Materials.

  • Cheesecloth or a steeping ball

Instructions

  1. Start by toasting your spices. (Toasting the spices will give you a richer flavor, which I think is important in this recipe where we're skipping out on bones/fat/meat.) Heat a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Put the cinnamon stick, star anise, whole cloves, cardamom seeds, and fennel seeds in the sauce pan and heat them until lightly toasted, about 3-5 minutes. Shake the pan often to prevent burning. The spices should be aromatic; set aside.

  2. Bring 4 cups of vegetable broth to a simmer in a medium-large saucepan over moderate heat. Add the tamari or soy sauce, and if you're pescetarian, the fish sauce as directed. Add the thinly sliced onions.

  3. Place the spices in a cheesecloth or steeping ball. (If using a steeping ball, put everything in it except the cinnamon stick since it won't fit, and simply place the cinnamon stick into the broth. You can easily fish it out later.) Place the vessel into the broth to steep for 15 minutes while the broth simmers.

  4. While the broth simmers, prepare the rice noodles as per the package's instructions.

  5. Once the rice noodles have been cooked, drained, and rinsed, transfer them to serving bowls.

  6. Remove the spices from the broth and give the broth a good stir. Carefully pour the broth over the noodles and garnish the soup with your choice of toppings + sauces. Give your bowl a refresh spritz of lime before eating.

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16 Comments

  • Reply
    Hayley | The Simple Supper
    March 30, 2018 at 6:12 pm I'm embarrassed to say I've still never had pho! But in my defense I live in a town with a population of 10k in Missouri so we don't get too worldly. It is now my mission to make some excellent pho!
  • Reply
    Shauna | Linden & Lavender
    March 11, 2018 at 10:11 pm I haven't had the time to try to make pho but share your love for it! I'm inspired to try and make it.
  • Reply
    Gabrielle @ eyecandypopper
    March 9, 2018 at 6:02 pm Gosh that looks good! Believe it or not, I've only had Pho once in my life. Last year. In Vietnam! I figured I had to try, and although the flavourings were completely different than this one, it was sooooo good! I'd love a bowl right now :)
  • Reply
    Nathalie
    March 9, 2018 at 5:25 pm I love soups and that pho looks  delicious!
  • Reply
    Loreto Nardelli
    March 9, 2018 at 1:44 pm Love the colors of this pho. So vibrant and fresh and the fact that you made it in 30 minutes makes it quite enticing. I like the history lesson on the beginnings of pho in the U.S. You are so right that food brings us together and for me going for pho is comforting and a great social experience. Wonderful work on this lighter vegetarian pho! Have a great day! Loreto@sugarlovespices
  • Reply
    Leanne | Crumb Top Baking
    March 9, 2018 at 1:25 pm I’ve always wanted to try making pho but have never gotten around to it. Now I have this quick vegetarian pho as motivation! Loved reading some of the history too. Thanks for sharing!
  • Reply
    Aryane @ Valises & Gourmandises
    March 3, 2018 at 12:48 pm Pho is confusing for so many people.. in most restaurants, the veggie version is also made with the bone broth, which is a little counterproductive, isn't it!? With the cold temperatures we've been having in Berlin lately, I would love to have that bowl of pho in front of me right now!
  • Reply
    Neriz @ food and journeys
    March 3, 2018 at 5:30 am Thank you for this! I have ALWAYS been scared of making pho at home -- kinda overwhelming, I guess. :-) This one though, I cannot wait to give this a try!
  • Reply
    Annie @ Annie's Noms
    March 3, 2018 at 4:42 am I absolutely adore Pho! My husband makes the most amazing food and he knows the way to my heart is with Pho haha! This looks delicious and I love how easy it is as well; sometimes they can take hours to make!
  • Reply
    Sean@Diversivore
    March 2, 2018 at 10:37 pm Ohhhhh man I just want to eat this SO BAD. As you know, I'm not vegetarian or pescetarian, but I can tell you that I would totally love to give this a shot. Truth be told, I'd love to do a side-by-side taste test with a similarly prepared beef broth. It'd be fascinating to see just how big of a character impact you get from the beef bones, given that the spices (the wonderful, wonderful spices) do so much heavy lifting. Love the recipe, love the detail, and love the bit of history behind the story of Pho in the US. Cheers!
  • Reply
    Leslie-Anne
    March 2, 2018 at 10:33 pm Great idea to lighten Pho broth up! I love that you and your friends would 'go for a pho' - I totally had a phase like that too! It's really one of my favourite soups!
  • Reply
    Calleigh
    March 2, 2018 at 9:54 pm My husband loves Pho, this is perfect for those chilly nights or something to eat after drinking too much.
  • Reply
    Ellen
    March 2, 2018 at 8:48 pm This looks so very delicious! Perfect for meatless Monday.
  • Reply
    Claire | Sprinkles and Sprouts
    March 2, 2018 at 7:25 pm This sounds fabulous. Pho is such a delicious dish, but one i usually save for the food markets as getting the deep broth is so time consuming. Definitely going to follow your tips and have a go at making at home. YUM :D
  • Reply
    Jessica
    March 2, 2018 at 6:28 pm Goodness this looks delicious!! I've wanted to try to make Pho at home and this recipe looks so manageable! Easy to find ingredients that I'm sure deliver great flavours! Can't wait to try :)
  • Reply
    Maresa
    March 2, 2018 at 4:48 pm Such a perfect cozy meal! I have never made pho at home - now you’re inspiring me to try!
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