These black and white beans exhibit an earthiness complemented by a vegetarian broth infused with the heavenly spices and aromatics that make Vietnamese phở so distinctive.
Why phở inspired?
Phở is amazing. Along with banh mi, it has put Vietnamese cuisine on the world map. But phở is not a singular consistent dish. There are many variations. Perhaps not quite as diverse as ramen, but it is close. Within Vietnam, there is a vigorous debate about the merits of Northern versus Southern phở. For another very different take on this Vietnamese classic, check out this duck phở.
You are truly privileged if you have been able to enjoy a good bowl of Vietnamese Phở. You will know that the aroma of the broth is intoxicating. My exercise regime involves long walks around Saigon’s streets. Every time I come across a phở restaurant, I have to stop and take a deep breath to savour that wonderful aroma.
The phở aroma is not so much about the meat used. Beef and chicken phở are both common in Saigon. Both share that distinctive aroma from the spices and aromatics used in the phở broth. The charred onion and ginger, together with the star anise, cloves, cinnamon stick, are what makes a phở broth special.
So could we make a broth with these spices and aromatics that didn’t rely on boiling animal bones for hours? That is what these black and white beans in a vegetarian pho inspired broth have achieved. That unique phở aroma paired with the earthy taste and creamy texture of cannellini beans and black beans results in an incredibly aromatic, tasty, and healthy dish.
Black and white beans
If you have ever cooked black beans, you will know that the cooking water becomes dark. To keep our white beans white, and our broth clear, we cook the black beans separately from the white beans. However, we don’t want them to miss out on some aromatics. Hence we include a charred onion, head of garlic, and a bay leaf with the cooking liquid. The result is wonderfully tasty black beans with some smoky, earthy notes. To not lose too much of this goodness to the cooking liquid, we only use as much as we really need, and no more. Only a little liquid should be left at the end of the cooking time.
The white beans, cannellini beans work very well, are cooked together with the aromatics to create the intoxicating vegetarian phở broth. Cannellini beans don’t just soak up the broth. They contribute starchy goodness to the vegetarian pho broth.
This recipe calls for dried beans. Using dried beans is worth the effort. The taste and texture are more refined. If you need to cut corners a little, substitute the black beans for a can of black beans that have been drained and rinsed. Not quite as good as you miss out on the aromatics used in the cooking of the dried black beans. But still delicious.
Substituting the white beans for canned beans is a different story. It is possible, and the dish would still be tasty, but I would recommend against it. Take the time to soak and simmer the dried with beans. The flavour and texture of this vegetarian pho will thank you.
There is some debate about when to add salt to the cooking beans. Some say it is best to add salt at the start of cooking. Others say that results in the skins becoming leathery and recommend seasoning at the end of cooking. Salting in this recipe draws on advice from testing done by SeriousEats, Kitchn, and Epicurious.
Black and white beans in a phở inspired broth
- 200 g dried black beans
- 200 g dried white beans
- 20 g salt for soaking
- 1 piece kombu 15x15cm
- 2 large onions
- 1 head garlic
- 1 large red pepper
- 2 carrots
- 2 bay leaves
- 6 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 60 g fresh ginger
- 5 star anise
- 4 cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/2 Tbsp fennel seeds
- 1/2 Tbsp coriander seeds
- 30 g rock sugar
- 4 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce plus 1 Tbsp fish sauce if you are not strictly vegetarian
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 3 liters water + 1.5 liters water
- Chilli oil
- spring onions
The day before
- Soak the beans in salted water overnight. 10 g salt per litre of soaking water. The black beans should be soaked separately from the white beans, as we are going to cook them separately.
On the day
- Add the 3 liters of water to a large saucepan. Add the kombu and dried shiitake mushrooms. Bring to nearly a boil, then remove from the heat and let sit for 1 hour. This makes a kombu dashi.
- Peel and halve the onions.
- Wash, halve, and depth the red pepper.
- Wash and halve the carrots lengthways.
- Wash the ginger and cut through horizontally to expose all the ginger inside.
- Halve the head of garlic and remove any loose skin.
- Under a broiler, or better still, over a gas grill, char the onions, ginger, and red pepper. A blast with a blow torch might help with the ginger.
- In a skillet, lightly toast the star anise, cloves, and cinnamon stick. Transfer to a stainless steel spice infuser or muslin bag.
Cook the black beans
- Drain soaking liquid from the black beans and transfer the beans to a saucepan.
- Add 1.5 liters of water, two halves of a charred onion, two halves of the head of garlic, and a bay leaf.
- Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 1 hour.
Cook the white beans in the broth
- After the kombu and shiitake mushrooms have been soaking in the 3 liters of water for an hour, remove the kombu and discard.
- Drain soaking liquid from the white beans and transfer the beans to the large saucepan with the kombu dashi.
- Add the red pepper, the charred ginger, the halved carrots, the rock sugar, the spices in the infuser, and a bay leaf.
- Put the remaining two halves of a charred onion in a larger stainless steel infuser and add to the saucepan. Keeping it in the infuser will make it easier to retrieve at the end.
- Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 1 hour.
- Once the two pots of beans have been simmering for 1 hour, add 2 tsp of salt to each of them.
- Simmer for another hour, or until the beans are of edible consistency. Smaller beans take less time.
- Remove the onion, garlic, and bay leaf from the pot of black beans. Drain and rinse the black beans under running water.
- Remove the red peppers, carrots, ginger, bay leaf, shiitake mushrooms, and infusers from the pot of white beans.
- Add the black beans to the pot of white beans and broth.
- Add the tsp of black pepper and the soy sauce. Check seasoning and adjust if necessary.
- Ladle into bowls and serve with chilli oil and fresh mint.