What happens when you have a craving for a Pho soup and leftover coconut you have to use because it has been sitting in the fridge for a while? An unphogetable coconut soup! Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun! I need to apologize to my Vietnamese friends for daring to change this traditional recipe but since I already got rid of the beef, why not add a little coconut milk! Actually, it turned out really good. Not all experiments end in success, but this one was a surprising hit! The coconut made this delicate soup a little creamier and a bit more filling.
In terms of vegetables, I used thin slices of onions, some braised greens (broccolini, bok choi), sugar peas, pan-fried mushrooms. You can add any greens. I like a combination of soft and crunchy vegetables. Add the vegetable broth, the pho spices half a cup of coconut milk. I kinda cheated because I didn’t have time to make the vegetable broth from scratch by simmering carrots, onions, daikon, and the pho spices for an hour. That would imply planning for the meal!
Don’t forget to soak your thin rice noodles in warm water for 10-15 mn or if you are in a hurry, boil water and simmer for 2-3 minutes until lightly cooked. Drain, rinse in cold water to stop the noodles from cooking, and set aside with a little of the water to prevent the noodles from sticking together. I like to serve this soup by placing a bed of rice noodles on the bottom of the bowl and pouring the soup on top.
What makes pho so special is the delicate set of flavors that come from star anise, whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, and coriander seeds. You may substitute Chinese 5 spices if you don’t have individual or whole spices.
Make life easy and buy pho spices in little packages in the Asian section of many grocery stores. They used to only be available in Asian grocery stores but I have noticed that they are now showing up in American stores too. Pho is gaining in popularity I guess. So next time you pass by the Asian section, make sure to check and if you are lucky, you will be in for a treat. These spice packages are so practical. They either come in a folded paper tea bags or a little bundle that you simply place in your broth and let it infuse and discard afterward. Be careful when you handle the spice bundle after it has cooked because the paper can easily tear and you will end up with messy lumps of ground-up spices in your soup! Just use a slotted spoon to be on the safe side. They do save so much time! If you do have whole spices, you should place them in a fine cloth bag or even a large tea ball so that you don’t have to fish them out individually!
You can add the traditional pho toppings if you have fresh cilantro, green onions, sprouted mung beans. I only had green onions and some fresh yuba (bean curd sheets from making soy milk) in the refrigerator. So the idea of making thin crisp strands from the yuba sheets sounded perfect. It doubled as protein for the soup too. You could also fry some shallots or onions.
Vegan coconut Pho Soup
- large tea ball or nut milk bag
- 3 star anise
- 3 whole cloves
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 yellow onion sliced
- 4 inch piece of fresh ginger
- 1 tsp sugar
- 4-5 cups vegetable broth
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce
- 3 cups greens (spinach, bok choi, collards etc.)
- 1/2 cup sugar or snap peas
- 1 cup mushrooms (shiitake or white) sliced
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro or basil and/or mint
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
- 2 lime wedges
- 1 jalapeno slices (optional)
- 1 yuba sheet
Prepare the broth
- In a medium pot, add the dry whole spices and toast until fragrant, stirring regularly for 2-3 minutes
- Allow the spices to cool down and place in a large tea ball or nut milk bag and tie it.
- Add the sliced onions, ginger, sugar, soy sauce and the spice bag to the vegetable stock and simmer for 15 minutes covered.
- Remove the onions, ginger and spices.
Prepare the rice noodles
- Soak the noodles in hot water for 15-20 minutes until they are softened and a bit more white.
- Using a chopstick, gently detangle the noodles.
- Drain and rinse the noodles in cold water to stop the cooking and set aside.
Prepare the vegetables
- If you are using bok choi, cut it half and pan- fry them the cut side down in a little soy sauce and maple syrup to braise them.
- Add the mushrooms and cook for a few minutes
Prepare the toppings
Cut thin strips of the yuba sheet and pan-fry with a 1 tsp of oil and soy sauce until crisp.
- Cut the green onions, lime wedges and slice the jalapeno if using.
Serving the soup
- A few minutes before serving the soup, blanch the rice noodles by filling a 4-quart saucepan with water and bring to boil.
- Using a strainer, boil the noodles for 2-3 minutes, drain and place in each serving bowls.
- Pour some broth over the noodles, add the braised vegetables, then the toppings of your choice. Crisp yuba strips, fresh cilantro, green onions...
- Serve immediately.