How Pho Genius Andrea Nguyen Makes a Richer Vegan Broth

February 16, 2017

If pho is largely defined by its meaty origins—an otherworldly broth sprung from unwanted bones and off-cuts—then how on earth do you make pho without meat at all?

Cookbook author Andrea Nguyen's answer was to do it with plenty of care and respect for tradition—and a totally nontraditional, equally resourceful surprise ingredient.

As Nguyen explains in her new book, The Pho Cookbook, the earliest phos in Northern Vietnam were beef—likely born as a clever use for the bones and scraps left behind from French occupiers’ demand for steaks. Even the introduction in 1939 of chicken pho was resisted by purists. (What these purists would have thought of "chicken" pho we can't know for sure.)

But Nguyen isn’t preoccupied with purity. As she wrote for NPR last year, “I’m glad that this soup that forms such a rich part of my cultural identity is gaining new fans, and I welcome all into the kitchen to cook it.”

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In her new book, Nguyen has developed a best-case pho method for pretty much anyone, while still respecting the history of pho as it’s moved through the world: There are quick recipes using store-bought stock, fast-scratch versions in the pressure cooker, along with long-simmered paeans to tradition—and not one, but three, thoughtful vegan broths.

This one, her "chicken" pho, has a precisely-tuned broth—starting with the essential toasted spices and singed onions and ginger, and then a pile of vegetables (and fruit!) in delicate balance.

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Top Comment:
“And we love pho. Such a variety out there.”
— judy

And there’s a secret ingredient to bring it all home: nutritional yeast—lovingly called “nooch,” it's the vegan answer to giving everything from popcorn to cashew ricotta a salty slug of umami. This is what makes the vegetable-based broth skew toward “chicken.” But because just shaking in the nooch would create a cloudy broth, Nguyen dilutes it first in hot water, lets the particles settle, then pours off the clear, golden liquid, like clarified butter. “Discard the khaki sludge,” she says.


Nguyen meticulously recreated the characteristics that make other pho broths swirl with that delicate teeter-totter of deep comfort and sweet spice—but that doesn’t make it fragile. You could take these techniques, particularly that nooch trick, and apply them to other vegetable broths.

When Nguyen wants the version of pho she knows to be the best and most true to her memory, she still goes all the way, simmering beef bones and charred aromatics for hours—because there isn’t a perfect one-to-one replacement. But in this book, she’s opened up a world of well-thought-out alternative paths that can be appreciated for their own merits, to bring the strength and calm of pho into more kitchens and more bellies.

Photos by James Ransom

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps a genius dessert? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thank you to our Books Editor & Stylist Ali Slagle for this one!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Max
  • SarahK
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  • Rhonda35
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Max March 11, 2020
So nice, but so often the word vegan mentioned through different recipes that it is becoming absolutely unattractive, not to say completely irrelevant. Can we use the term vegan in measured quantities? There is no such thing as vegan chicken? So why to use the word chicken? Food for thought!
SarahK December 2, 2017
NYF IT'S CALLED NYF. Or is that just an Oberlin thing.
judy February 16, 2017
I am guessing the secret ingredient is the apple. What a great recipe. i'm going to give it a try. I already have all the ingredients. And we love pho. Such a variety out there.
Jason February 18, 2017
I would agree. The pectin that's released from the apple would help mimic certain aspects that the bone marrow would contribute to a broth.
Rhonda35 February 19, 2017
The article calls the nutritional yeast the "secret ingredient." But whatever seems "secret" to the cook can most certainly be that ingredient, right?!