Pho was the dish my family gathered around every Sunday, whether we were at home or at our favorite spot in Los Angeles’s Chinatown. Even as I started to cook more vegetarian food as an adult, my craving for a filling, soul-edifying pho remained, and I spent years chasing down the right combination of ingredients that would produce a vegan pho broth just as umami-packed as one with beef bones. Here I landed on a mix of dried shiitake mushrooms, kombu (dried kelp), and miso to bring a nuanced complexity to the broth. (Read more about how I developed the recipe here.)
Drawing inspiration from cookbook author Andrea Nguyen’s vegan pho recipe, I use warm spices like cloves, star anise, cinnamon, and coriander to bring the flavors of this Vietnamese noodle soup together. The key is to make sure the spices are toasted adequately enough so you can smell their fragrance before adding the other ingredients. And don’t be afraid to let your onions, carrots, and celery get significantly charred at the start. Once you add water, all of that smoky goodness will melt away into your vegetable broth. While the broth soaks up flavor from the spices and mushroom-miso-kombu party, the fun part comes with prepping the toppings for your pho bowls: soy-caramelized mushrooms and fried tofu matchsticks. —An Uong
Note: Less sweet than refined sugar and often golden in hue, rock sugar brings a mellow, balanced sweetness to the broth, but raw sugar will work as a substitute.