Every month I teach a cooking class in my office for my colleagues. With a very limited amount of equipment, I teach them new dishes and educate them on just how easy it is to cook. We mainly use the InstantPot which I would say permanently lives at the office (I’ve only ever brought it home once when I first received it as a gift to test out a recipe and to play around with it). It’s been a complete godsend and to make hot food in the office is great during these past winter months.
I had taken some requests from my colleagues asking what they would like me to cook and received an overwhelming response for pho. Well, okay. I’m up for the challenge. But because we have a growing number of vegans in our office, I wanted to make it vegan-friendly so I had the joy of tackling a vegan pho recipe. What fun times.
Honestly, I’m glad we went the vegan route. Because the broth is vegetable-based, the base would come together much quicker than a beef or chicken-based version. Either or, all I was really looking forward to was bringing in a blowtorch to torch shit out of the aromatics. Not going to lie, it was pretty frightening (especially coming from someone who has a serious fire fear and can barely light match or lighter). For some reason, using a blowtorch is much better than a match/lighter?! I don’t even know my own logic sometimes but hey, it worked!
Torching your aromatics (onion, star anise, green cardamam pods, cinnamon, etc) is EXTREMELY important when making any type of pho broth because that is where a lot of that flavour comes from. That aroma you smell when you walk into pho joint? You’re smelling star anise which is a star in this recipe (lol, kill me now - I love my corny jokes!). If you don’t have a blowtorch on-hand, feel free to char them over your gas stove burner or broil on high in your oven.
Back to the recipe! Because there are so many blasphemous recipes out there by ahem, a ton of white people that don’t know what pho really is or tastes like (excuse me, but Google vegan pho and see what you find. I’m sorry but if you’re using vegetable broth as a base for your recipe, I’m gone), I had to research quite deeply. Luckily, one of my favourite local bloggers, Steph from I Am A Food Blog had a wonderfully enjoyable, easy and delicious recipe that we had all enjoyed.
Most of the flavour for this broth comes from not only the charred aromatics, but from the shiitake mushrooms. It’s such a useful ingredient. Dried shiitake mushrooms bring out so much flavour and umami, especially in vegan recipes. It’s a staple in my kitchen because hey, they’re dried and they basically last forever.
With its quick cooking time and delicate flavour, I must say that i was impressed with how the vegan pho. Do keep in mind that you must aggressively season the broth with salt and sugar - don’t be shy! We served ours with cilantro, Thai basil, enoki mushrooms, tofu puffs, sriracha, hoisin sauce, lime, and thinly sliced onions. Give this recipe a try - so easy to make!
VEGAN PHO - serves 8 (recipe from I Am A Food Blog)
2.5 onions, halved
2 inches of ginger, sliced
2 pieces cinnamon (4” each)
5 star anise
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cardamom pods
1/2 teaspoon cloves (10)
25 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 lb daikon, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
salt and sugar, to taste
thinly sliced onion
various types of tofu
king oyster mushrooms, sauteed
wood ear mushrooms
sliced green onions and cilantro
Bring a large pot of water to a boil – this is so the Instant Pot gets up to pressure faster. Feel free to skip this step if you’re not in a hurry.
Start off by charring the aromatics. Place the onion, ginger, cinnamon stick, star anise, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, cardamom pods, and cloves on a rimmed baking sheet and blow torch until fragrant. Alternately, char the onions and ginger on an outdoor grill, over a gas range, or in an oven broiler and toast the spices in a dry pan on low heat until they are aromatic, about 2-3 minutes. Tie the spices up in cheesecloth or large tea/spice bag for easy removal from your soup.
Add the spices to the Instant Pot along the shiitakes, ginger, and daikon. Add the hot water to the insert, up to the 4 quart line. Put the lid on, set the pressure to high for 45 minutes. Quick release when it’s done, then very carefully remove all of the mushrooms and aromatics. If you have the time, natural release is the better option as it’ll keep in more of the flavors.
Season the pho broth with salt and sugar, being sure to season quite aggressively because the broth will have to flavor the noodles and toppings as well. We do 1-2 teaspoons of salt and 2 tablespoons of sugar per quart of liquid after the solids are strained out.
For toppings, you can keep the mushrooms from the broth, just let them cool slightly, then trim the stems and slice. We also added two types of tofu: medium firm and fried, as well as some sautéed kind oyster mushrooms and wood ear mushrooms.
To serve: Prepare the noodles according to the package, strain and divide evenly into large, deep bowls. Add a generous amount of mushrooms and tofu. Top with a generous amount of broth. Serve with limes, Thai basil, thinly sliced onions and cilantro and chilis. Have small dipping plates of sriracha and hoisin sauces for each person. Enjoy immediately!