The advent of the vegetable spiralizer has made it possible to swap vegetables for noodles in a variety of dishes. I love my spiralizer (and by the way, it would make a great holiday gift for anyone you know who likes to experiment in the kitchen!) But I’ll always be partial to nature’s noodle: the spaghetti squash. Today it stands in for rice noodles in this vegan spaghetti squash pho.
I’ve been wanting to recreate vegan pho ever since trying a version with smoked tofu at a restaurant a couple of months ago. We have a criminal amount of winter squash in our pantry right now, so the spaghetti squash pho idea was a natural one. The other week I was lucky enough to find a whole sack of star anise for $3, so it was finally time for the spaghetti squash pho I dreamt of. Plus, I thought that this recipe would be a much-needed lighter option, post-Thanksgiving.
Some obvious changes are needed to make pho vegan: remove the meat; remove the fish sauce. Luckily, a good dose of soy sauce will easily take care of your umami needs. To account for the flavor normally added by the meat, I pan-roasted the whole spices before infusing them into the broth. This step is not normally taken with pho, but I think it adds more depth to the vegetarian broth. I liked it with just the spaghetti squash, but you could also add tofu (like the restaurant did), mushrooms, seitan, or whatever else you fancy.
If you don’t want to make the homemade vegan pho broth, there are several shortcuts. Pacific Foods sells a cartoned vegetarian pho base (it’s mushroom-based). You can also get pre-mixed pho spice packets to avoid buying full containers of whole spices. And of course, this broth is great with real noodles instead of spaghetti squash, if you like. =]
That all said, if you have the time, willingness to get the ingredients, and motivation to follow the steps, I really do recommend the homemade pho broth. I have no words for how good it smells, simmering away on the stove. “This tastes like real pho!”, exclaimed my partner. Please, it is real pho! Plus, you can retrieve the whole spices afterward, dry them, and have yourself the beginnings of an elevated Vietnamese-inspired potpourri. 🙂
Vegan Spaghetti Squash Pho (Vietnamese Noodle Soup)
For the homemade vegan pho broth:
- 1 yellow or white onion peeled and quartered
- 1 shallot peeled and halved
- 1 large clove garlic halved
- 4 to 6 inches ginger root (unpeeled), cut into thick slices
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 tbsp whole coriander seeds
- 1 tbsp whole fennel seeds
- 5 whole star anise
- 1 whole cardamom pod (optional)
- water as needed
- 2 tbsp soy sauce (or tamari, aminos, etc.), plus more to taste
- 1 tbsp coconut sugar (or brown sugar)
For the vegan spaghetti squash pho:
- 1 spaghetti squash cooked
- vegan pho broth (above)
- fresh cilantro chopped
- fresh Thai basil chopped
- green onions or scallions thinly sliced
- hot peppers very thinly sliced
- carrots thinly sliced (pickled or fresh)
- mung bean sprouts
- other toppings/additions of choice (like cooked tofu, mushrooms, etc.)
For the vegan pho broth:
If you have a gas stove, turn on the flame and use a pair of metal tongs (or a metal cooling rack/grate, if it's stove-friendly) to char the onions, shallots, garlic and ginger slices until blackened. If you don't have a gas stove, put them in the oven on broil (or the highest heat setting, if your oven doesn't broil), and cook until very browned.
Add the charred aromatics to a large pot, and add 8 cups of water. Turn the heat to high.
Meanwhile, in a small, dry skillet, toast the cinnamon, coriander, fennel, anise, and cardamom over medium heat. As soon as the spices start to brown or become fragrant, remove them from the heat. Scoop them into a spice bag or cheesecloth, and then add them to the pot. (You can also add them directly to the pot, but it might be more of a pain to stir later).
When the mixture comes to a boil, reduce it to a simmer. Cook for about two hours, stirring occasionally, until you can taste the flavors infused into the broth and it is reduced by a couple of inches.
Stir in the soy sauce, and coconut sugar. Allow a minute or two for the sugar to dissolve. Taste the broth for seasoning and add more soy sauce or table salt, and sugar, as desired. Turn off the heat.
For the vegan spaghetti squash pho:
Add several large handfuls of spaghetti squash "noodles" to a soup bowl. Ladle a generous helping of vegan pho broth over the squash. Squeeze some lime juice onto the broth and then add all of the garnishes (or mix and match by preference).
Store any leftover broth, squash, and garnishes separately.
You may taste the broth and think that it's plenty savory, but lacks a little bit of spark. That's why it's served with a fresh squeeze of lime. Mix and match the rest of the toppings as you wish, but don't exclude the lime!
Nutrition facts include the broth and spaghetti squash and exclude other toppings.
P.S. This recipe was originally inspired by my friend Laura, who blogged at the now-defunct blog the Gluten-Free Treadmill and shared a vegan spaghetti squash pho recipe many moons ago.