This one’s been on my to-make list for quite some time. I always knew that spaghetti squash was destined for noodle soup greatness, and oh my goodness does it ever shine in pho.
Hold on a minute, let’s talk about something first. Did you know that the word “pho” is pronounced “phuh”? As in, “huh, I always thought it was pronounced ‘phoh'”. I learned this fact several years ago from a co-worker, and even though I know she is right, I always feel this weird bit of pretension when I say the word correctly. That is so backwards, because really it’s saving me from looking like a moron who can’t pronounce food names correctly (this is very bad for a food blogger), but I can’t help it.
Maybe it’s because I really want to say things like “pho sho”, but I can’t, because that doesn’t rhyme, except in my head. Moving on…
Would you just look at those beautiful squash noodles? I mean, come on, it’s like they are living their squash destiny. Oh, and not only that, but the squash shell can also be a bowl! But we’ll get to that. First, we gotta make the broth.
Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup, typically made with a beef broth that is flavored with spices like ginger, cinnamon, clove, star anise, and coriander. We’re going to veganize this and low-carb-ify it too, by replacing the rice noodles with spaghetti squash (if you hadn’t figured that out by now). Are the spices negotiable, you ask? Nope. They are not. I mean, you could leave them out I guess, but don’t call it pho. I’m sure the purists are already going to be up in my face about all the changes we’re making to begin with. The spices? They stay. The good news is that they’re all whole spices, which means they keep for a loooooong time. You should also be able to buy them from that little spice station at the end of the aisle in the grocery store, with the little bags and the number for each spice that you write with a black wax crayon. That was very specific.
We need to wake up these spices by toasting them in a dry pan over medium heat, just until they’re fragrant. I use a cast iron skillet, but you could also just toss them onto a baking sheet for a few minutes while your oven is preheating. Oh, by the way, preheat your oven to 500F. YEP. That’s high, on purpose. Because we need to get our char on. Well, the onions and ginger do. And the mushrooms, if that floats your boat.
Why do we need to char anything? Flavor, baby. Charring the onions and ginger is a key component to a flavorful pho broth, particularly so because there’s no meat involved. We need to amp up the flavor any way we can, and we need time to prep the spaghetti squash, so let’s make the most of our time, ok? Ok.
Next up, slice that squash. We’ve already discussed how to get the longest noodles from spaghetti squash, but just in case you missed that, here’s the gist. The “noodles” run around the circumference of the squash. Cut it horizontally, get longer noodles. Oh, and you also get two spaghetti squash bowls! Now is the time for you to decide if you want to use your squash as a bowl, or not. If yes, you’ll want to trim the very ends of the squash to create a flat base. This way the bowl stands up straight and your pho doesn’t fall out.
You can also take the extra step of salting the squash for a few minutes before roasting. It draws out a ton of moisture (see bottom right pic) and dramatically improves the texture of the noodles. Why does this matter when we’re going to be eating it in wet soup anyway? Because mushy noodles are no fun, yo. Salt your squash. Trust me.
Roast the squash at 425F for 30 minutes while the broth simmers. That’s just enough time for all of the warm, spicy, smoky flavors to combine into a soul-soothing bath of goodness. When the squash is cooked, you can twirl the noodles away from the shell with a fork, pour over some broth, and add the toppings before diving in to slurp city. Traditional pho toppings are fresh lime wedges, mung bean sprouts, thinly sliced chiles (like jalapeño, typically), and basil (ideally, Thai basil). Oh, and some hoisin sauce for sweetness. It is a delicate flavor balance of spicy, hot, sour, and sweet, and I love it oh so much.
Originally, I thought it was going to be oh so clever to serve the pho directly in the spaghetti squash shell/bowl. I still think it is clever, but it’s also kind of impractical. One, because leaks happen, so you still have to put the bowl into another bowl. Trust me on this. Two, it’s hard to fit all the toppings into the bowl, and definitely tricky to mix everything up as you eat without making a mess. So, maybe try it once for fun, but if you’re like me you’ll probably be happier with a wide, deep bowl that is not made of squash.
One last thing – you might be wondering if it’s ok to use rice noodles instead of spaghetti squash. OF COURSE IT IS. Or, you could be like me and use both! Medium-carb for the win. If you do this, my recommendation would be to cook the noodles in the water that you’ll use for the broth, then drain and set aside until serving time. This way you don’t have to dirty another pot for the noodles. You’re welcome. 🙂
I hope you’ll give this pho a try! And, let me know in the comments if you have a hard time saying pho correctly too. I need to know I’m not alone. I think we all need that. Love to you all, in soup form. <3
Spaghetti Squash Vegan Pho
- 1-2 spaghetti squash (2 small if using as bowls, 1 large if only using for the noodles)
- 1 large white onion (peeled and halved)
- 2- inch piece fresh ginger (scrubbed and sliced into 1/4” thick coins)
- 2 portobello mushrooms (sliced (optional))
- 3-4 whole cloves
- 4-5 whole star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 teaspoons whole coriander seed
- 8 cups vegetable broth (or use water + Better Than Bouillion vegetable flavor*)
- 1-2 Tablespoons soy sauce (to taste)
- Mung bean sprouts
- Lime wedges
- Jalapeno chiles (thinly sliced)
- Hoisin sauce
- Fresh basil (use Thai Basil if you can find it)
- Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.
- As the oven is preheating, add the whole spices to a sheet tray or cast iron skillet and place in the oven for 5 minutes. Check often so they don’t burn, you just want them to start releasing their fragrance and “wake up”.
- Remove the spices to a dish and let cool.
- Roast the onion, ginger, and mushrooms on the same baking sheet or cast iron skillet for 15-20 minutes until slightly charred.
- Meanwhile, cut the spaghetti squash horizontally and scoop out the seeds. If using the squash as the bowl for the pho, carefully trim off the ends of each half so that they will have a sturdy base. Sprinkle salt generously on each half to draw out excess moisture and improve the noodle texture.
- Lower oven temperature to 425F and roast the spaghetti squash for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the broth.
- Add the roasted onions, ginger, and mushrooms to a large pot, followed by the spices, broth, and soy sauce.
- Bring to a low boil, then reduce to a simmer while the spaghetti squash is cooking.
- When the spaghetti squash is cooked, let it cool while the broth simmers.
- If using the squash half as a bowl, place it in a bowl of similar size (just in case of a leak), and use a fork to twirl the noodles away from the skin. Pour broth over and serve with toppings.
- Otherwise, use a fork to scrape out the noodles and distribute equally into each bowl. Ladle over the broth and serve with toppings.