Vegetable Beef Pho


Soup is a great dish for the change of seasons when we crave food that’s lighter but still satisfying. This recipe has everything a healthy meal should contain: vegetables, protein, and healthy fat. It’s my version of the Vietnamese favorite called pho (pronounced "fuh").

Traditionally, this soup is made by layering toppings on a bed of rice noodles bathed in a fragrant broth. I wanted to make mine gluten-free and grain-free, so I substituted shredded Savoy cabbage for the noodles.

Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage are good sources of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They are also a rich source of sulfur-containing compounds like isothiocyanates and indoles associated with the prevention of many kinds of cancer including tumors of the breast, prostate, lung, colon, and rectum. These compounds boost antioxidant levels and stimulate detoxification pathways in the liver as well. (Learn more about cruciferous veggies and detox in my book, The Prediabetes Detox.) 

I topped my pho with sautéed beech mushrooms, quartered cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced scallions, chopped cilantro, minced fresh green chili pepper, and sliced grass-fed steak. You can use any toppings you like. Other good choices would be chopped seaweed, sliced and sautéed shiitake mushroom caps, sprouts, fresh basil or mint, chopped nuts, and/or wedges of lime. Instead of beef, you could top it with seafood, chicken, or pork. If you're on a detox, omit the honey.

For a vegetarian version, top it with a halved hard- or soft-boiled egg, cubes of sautéed tofu or tempeh, or cooked beans instead of meat. For a vegan version, use vegetable broth, mushroom broth, or bean broth instead of bone broth. As an alternative to shredded cabbage, you could substitute ribbons of spiralized zucchini. 

This soup is just one example of how to eat meat as a condiment in a plant-based diet. It's also an economical way to incorporate grass-fed meats into a healthy meal that the whole family can enjoy. Full of immune-supportive ingredients like ginger, garlic, chili pepper, and bone broth, pho is also a nourishing meal for anyone under the weather, especially during cold and flu season. This recipe makes about 3 large (main course) bowls of soup.

  • 6 cups beef bone broth (or other bone broth)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 dried star anise
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground clove
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black or Szechuan peppercorns
  • Pinch cayenne
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 6 cups shredded cabbage
  • 5 ounces beech mushrooms, separated
  • 3/4 to 1 pound grass-fed steak
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon tamari
  • 1 teaspoon honey

  1. Warm a soup pot over medium heat. Skim off any fat from the top of the bone broth and add it to the pan. If there is none, add some rendered animal fat, ghee, or coconut oil. Once the fat has melted and the pan is hot, add the onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until soft and starting to brown.
  2. Place the star anise in a small piece of cheesecloth tied with (organic) cotton string, then set it aside. You can skip this step if you're willing to fish them out later. 
  3. Once the onion is soft and starting to brown, stir in the ground and grated spices: ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, clove, fennel, peppercorn, cayenne, and salt. Continue cooking until the spices start to toast and become aromatic, another minute or two. 
  4. Add enough of the bone broth to moisten the bottom of the pot. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan and incorporate them into the broth. Stir in the remaining broth along with the fish sauce, tamari, and honey. Add the star anise. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and allow the broth to simmer. 
  5. Once the broth has been simmering for at least 30 minutes, place the mushrooms in the bottom of a small saucepan with a fine mesh strainer on top. Ladle in enough of the broth to cover the mushrooms and return the strained onion to the soup pot, still simmering. 
  6. Simmer the mushrooms until just tender, about three to five minutes depending on their size, then turn off the heat. Place the fine mesh strainer on top of the soup pot to catch the mushrooms as you return the broth to the pot. Set the mushrooms aside.
  7. Remove the star anise. Add the cabbage to the broth and simmer until tender. 
  8. While the cabbage cooks, sear the steak over high heat. Do not move the meat until it naturally detaches from the pan and flip it only once. I cooked mine rare, which took just 4 or 5 minutes on each side of a 1-inch thick grass-fed edge of eye steak. Allow the steak to rest 10 minutes, then slice it against the grain.
  9. Once the cabbage is tender, stir the grated garlic into the soup. Taste it for seasoning and make any necessary adjustments.
  10. Use tongs or a slotted spoon to fill each soup bowl about 2/3 full of cabbage, forming a base solid enough to support the toppings. Ladle the broth over the cabbage, just enough to barely cover it. Arrange the garnishes on top: sliced steak, cooked mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, cilantro, scallions, and fresh chili pepper. Serve immediately.