Pho real. I’m sharing the how-to-guide for my carefully developed vegan pho stock: the Division Street Pho Chay.
When Portland starts to look like this again…
A bowl of this can work wonders.
Rants & Reason
I’ve been tinkering around with the eventual recipe for Division Street* Pho, which is traditionally identified as a pho chay, for months now. Tinker, tinker. I found myself on what became an epic quest for vegan pho chay in Portland last winter (which I’ll be compiling one of these days), and really studying the flavors in the bowls in front of me. Specifically, which broths boasted or lacked flavor, spices, development. I turned to google search and Vietnamese cookbooks to read up on just what makes traditional pho broth (Spoiler alert: charred, simmered bones), how to avoid the off-putting canned broths and salty flavor packets, the building blocks of the Buddhist vegetarian version (chay), the requisite spices and herbs, and ultimately, how I could achieve my own animal-free depth of flavor.
While on my restaurant tour, as any vegan pho-seeker knows, I found myself depending on the now-standard table side Sriracha and hoisin, heaps of bean sprouts, sliced jalapeño when provided, and ditto for my beloved Thai basil. You should see the look on my face when there’s nothing but piles of cilantro (I’m sorry!) and sprouts, or two small basil leaves. A sad, single wedge of lime. The horror.
Because pho chay does not have a base of slow-cooked bones and hunks of meat, it’s really up in the air when you order it out. The broth seriously may be canned, from a packet, super boring, or hopefully, if you can find it, made from scratch.
After one local option that made me question if my rice noodles were being served in water, I started researching way too many traditional meaty recipes and a few vegetarian ones (most of which seemed to be based on this one from Vegetarian Times), and decided to make my own from scratch. I wanted to attempt a rich, authentic broth by starting with scorched vegetables. Since I have an electric oven, I opted to broil, but if you can scorch, do it! My take has a double dose of mushrooms with two dried varieties, shiitakes and black fungus, which you’ll usually see in hot & sour soup , and a few more roasted in the base of the stock. As with any housemade vegetable broth, throw in whatever you have hanging around and you think would work, flavor-wise.
Part I: Roasting The Stock Base
What you need:
- 2 shallots, roughly chopped
- 1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
- 5 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
- 1 large carrot, sliced into chunks
- 1 leek – the white part,sliced into large rounds > save the green tops for the next step
- handful of whole mushrooms, halved, such as cremini,button, portobello, oyster or shiitakes
- drizzle of peanut oil
- sprinkle of coconut palm or brown sugar
- 3 inches of peeled ginger, sliced into large chunks
- 2 stalks of lemongrass, peeled and sliced into large chunks at its base
Roast 25-30 min at 500F for broiling, stirring halfway though, being careful not to blacken.
Part II: Simmering The Stock
Add the roasted vegetables and whatnot to a large stock pot, along with:
- 12-14 cups water > The question is, how big is your stock pot?
- 1/4 cup soy sauce or tamari (for a gluten-free version)
- 2 teaspoons whole back peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon coconut palm or brown sugar
- 2-4 star anise pods
- 1 heaping teaspoon hoisin sauce
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- generous handful of fresh Thai (also known as holy) basil
- 8 ounces dried mushrooms, such as shiitakes and black fungus
- leek top, thrown in whole
Part III: The Bowl
Here’s how to assemble your bowls of soup:
- Cooked rice noodles (which usually call for a quick hot water soak and run under cool water)
- Prepped vegetables
- Protein (alternately, add this with the toppings)
- Ladle in your hot broth
- Top with your desired fixins, herbs and sauces (more on that below)
My go-to vegetables & proteins:
- pan-fried salt & pepper tofu cubes
- fresh tofu chunks
- pre-fried tofu slices
- quickly sauteed crispy greens, such as baby bok choy
- shredded or thinly sliced carrots
- halved shiitake mushrooms sauteed in peanut oil
- sliced veggie ham
- smoked seitan
Part IV: The Fixins
Suggested staples for a vegan pho chay party:
- sliced jalapeno or serrnao peppers (Tip: toss these in first to develop a spicier broth from the start)
- Sriracha. Of course.
- Hoisin sauce (make sure it’s vegan, most seem to be)
- fresh bean sprouts
- fresh Thai basil
- fresh cilantro
- scallions or green onions
- lime wedges
- fried shiitakes
- ground chiles
- soy sauce or gluten-free tamari
- additional tofu and vegetables
For a curry version for two servings, whisk one tablespoon of curry powder (Indian is fine to use, while homemade Vietnamese curry powder is pictured here), a pinch of brown or coconut palm sugar and dash of soy sauce or tamari into 1/2 cup of coconut milk in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, divide into two bowls, and move forward into your bowl assembly from there, starting with the noodles.
*why, because I live on Division Street. Pho serious.