Recipe: Vegetable Pho Soup

This fragrant Vietnamese noodle soup is a great way to use up garden greens such as kale or spinach. 

Words and photo: Elien Lewis

This meat-free version of the classic Vietnamese noodle soup is enriched with dried shiitake mushrooms, fresh button mushrooms, cabbage, carrots and kale. The broth can be made ahead of time.

Serves 4


8 to 10 dried shiitake mushrooms
4 to 5 tablespoons coconut oil
1 large onion, cut into big chunks
1 large piece fresh ginger (about 40g), sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 whole star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 litre vegetable stock
1 litre water
1½ tablespoons fish sauce (or use shredded dried seaweed or tamari soy sauce)
100g white button mushrooms, sliced
1 cup shredded cabbage
1 carrot, grated
250g dried flat rice noodles
1 cup shredded kale
1 fresh red chilli or 1 teaspoon chilli flakes (optional)
lime wedges, Vietnamese mint and coriander to serve


Put the shiitake mushrooms in a small bowl and cover with 1 cup boiling water. Set aside for 20 minutes.

Set a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons coconut oil, followed by the onion. Fry until well browned, turning only occasionally, then add the ginger and garlic and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the star anise, cinnamon, vegetable stock, water and fish sauce. Bring to a simmer.

Drain the shiitake mushrooms, reserving the soaking water. Set the shiitakes aside and add the water to the simmering broth. Continue to simmer on low heat for 45 to 90 minutes. The longer it simmers, the better the flavour but don’t let it boil or it will reduce too much.

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Towards the end of the simmering, start on the vegetables and rice noodles. Set a large saucepan over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons coconut oil. When hot, add the button mushrooms. Fry until they start to caramelize around the edges. Slice up the soaked shiitake mushrooms, discarding the toughstems. Add them to the frying mushrooms and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the cabbage and carrot and fry for another 10 minutes until softened and slightly caramelized. More oil may be needed.

While the vegetables are cooking, cook the rice noodles in a large pot of boiling water for about 6 minutes, or until soft. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside.

Add the shredded kale and chilli to the other vegetables and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes until the kale starts to wilt. Remove from the heat. Remove the broth from the heat and pour it through a sieve to remove the spices and other ingredients. Season to taste with salt.

To serve, divide the vegetables and rice noodles between four bowls. Ladle over the hot broth and garnish with chopped fresh coriander and Vietnamese mint. Serve with lime wedges.

Read more stories like these in our special edition, Sustainability Through the Seasons, a practical guide to living a greener and more environmentally friendly life 365 days of the year.

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