Vietnamese Vegetarian: 3 easy and delicious veggie-friendly Vietnamese favorites

Food writer and supper club host Uyen Luu shares three recipes from her latest cookbook – and they’re perfect for speedy weekday meals. 

From bánh mì and bun cha to pho, Vietnamese cuisine is a perennial favorite when we’re on the hunt for simple, speedy meals packed with vibrant flavors.

Although many classic dishes feature fish sauce as a staple ingredient, if you’re a vegetarian, there are plenty of easy substitutions that are just as delicious – as a food writer, photographer, and supper club host Uyen Luu prove in her latest cookbook Vietnamese Vegetarian.

The follow-up to her 2020 release Vietnamese is packed full of more than 80 mouth-watering meat-free dishes – from speedy dinners like sweet potato noodles with roasted fennel and sweetheart cabbage and omelet bánh mì to dishes that are perfect for sharing, like rice paper pizza – Luu’s new book also features helpful tips and tricks on how to adapt your favorite Vietnamese recipes using alternative ingredients.


Whether you’re a fully-fledged veggie or you’re trying to cut back on your meat consumption, there’s something to suit all taste buds – and we’ve got a first look at some of Luu’s recipes.

First up is her lemongrass tofu, which makes a great, flavorsome accompaniment to noodle salads or filling for bánh mì, while her quick and lazy drenched cold noodles are a simple, delicious way to use up the ingredients sitting in your fridge and cupboards.

And for a tasty dinner option packed with veggies, try the spiced tofu with aubergine and enoki mushrooms. The secret ingredient is ready-made spicy bean paste, a great shortcut to spicy umami flavor.


Lemongrass tofu (Đậu hũ kho sả)

Uyen says: “I like using medium-firm tofu but understanding the correct firmness of tofu will help make your veggie dishes amazing, as tofu takes on all the fabulous flavors you throw at it. As well as being a great topping for a noodle salad bowl, this is a much-loved dish to be shared with friends and family during a meal of rice and lots of other dishes. This is also great for summer rolls or bánh mì filling, therefore a must-have in your repertoire.”

Serves 2–4

Prep time — 15 minutes

Cooking time — 25 minutes


  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 (or 2) bird’s eye chili, finely chopped (optional)
  • 1 lemongrass stalk, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon premium quality soy sauce or Homemade Vegan Fish Sauce (see below)
  • 1½ tablespoons vegetarian oyster sauce
  • 1½ tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon black vinegar (or cider vinegar)
  • 300g (10½ oz) medium-firm tofu, sliced into 1 cm (½ in) batons
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 50ml (1¾ fl oz) coconut water or aloe vera juice
  • 30g (1 oz) coriander leaves or Thai basil, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds


Mix the shallot, garlic, chili, and lemongrass in a large bowl, together with the soy sauce, vegetarian oyster sauce, maple syrup, and vinegar. Add the sliced tofu to the bowl and marinate for at least 30 minutes or in the refrigerator overnight.

In a large frying pan over medium heat, add the oil, then place the tofu batons clockwise to fry for 5 minutes on each side or until golden. Then add the rest of the marinade and the coconut water to sizzle for a further 3–5 minutes, adding more if too dry. Stir in the coriander at the last minute.

Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and serve immediately with steamed rice or in vermicelli noodle salad bowls.

Note: If you would like to deep-fry the tofu, fry the other ingredients in another frying pan, then combine the sauce with the tofu when the tofu is golden and crispy.

Homemade vegan fish sauce

Makes 60ml (2 fl oz)

Prep time — 10 minutes

Cooking time — 10 minutes


  • 20–30g (1 oz) fish mint
  • 100ml (3½ fl oz) water
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup or caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 bird’s eye chilli, whole
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice


Simmer the fish mint leaves in a saucepan over medium-high heat with the water, maple syrup, salt, garlic, and chili for about 10 minutes until it reduces by half. Discard the leaves, garlic, and chili.

To serve, add the lime juice.

This will only keep for a day before it discolors. It can still be used within a couple of days, but it will look murky, so only make what you need.

To make a dipping sauce, adjust accordingly, adding a little hot water if too salty, extra sweetness using sugar, and extra sharpness using lime juice.

Quick and lazy drenched cold noodles (Mì trộn)

Uyen says: “This is a delicious and easy way to prepare a super-fast lunch on busy days and great to use up things you have sitting around in the refrigerator and store cupboard. Make sure your garlic and shallot oil is nice and hot. I like to use cold-pressed rapeseed oil but feel free to use vegetable or sunflower oil. If cooking for a crowd, prep all the bowls and only do the final pouring of hot oil when ready to serve.”

Serves 2

Prep time — 15 minutes

Cooking time — 10 minutes


  • 100g (3½ oz) flat rice noodles, or cooked ramen noodles
  • 1 small round shallot, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons rapeseed oil
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoons crispy chili oil (Laoganma or Pippy Eats)
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1½ teaspoons maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon black vinegar or cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • handful of coriander leaves (around 20g (¾ oz))
  • 30g (1 oz) garlic chives (optional)
  • 2 garlic cloves, roughly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons hot Maggi liquid seasoning (optional)


Rehydrate the noodles by placing them in a bowl or container with a lid and pouring just-boiled water from the kettle over them. Cover for at least 4 minutes. Check if they are cooked and continue to cover them if not. When done, drain in a colander and rinse with hot tap water until the water runs clear of starch. Then place a lid on the colander to dry out. This fluffs up the noodles.

In a small frying pan over medium heat, add the shallot and oil, and gently cook for about 3 minutes before turning off the heat. Between two small noodle bowls, divide the sesame seeds, crispy chili oil, soy sauce, maple syrup, black vinegar, sesame oil, coriander, and garlic chives, if using.

Going back to the pan of oil and shallots, turn the heat to high and add the garlic. Cook for 2 minutes until golden, and the oil is bubbling.

Then pour the hot garlic and shallot oil into each of the prepared bowls before adding the noodles. 

Serve immediately; the fun is mixing it all up with chopsticks as you eat. Feel free to squirt over hot Maggi liquid seasoning, if using, and further dress your bowl with your favorite condiments.


Spiced tofu with aubergine and enoki mushrooms (Cà tím sốt cay Tứ Xuyên)

Uyen says: “You can do all sorts of amazing things with aubergines (eggplants); I love aubergines! They soak up any sort of magic you throw at them. I often buy a jar of ready-made spicy bean paste when I stock up on my store cupboard supplies. It quickly helps me achieve the special, spicy umami flavors with the luxurious smoky aubergines and coat the silken tofu cubes in a lava of chili oil. This sublime dish makes its appearance at my dinner table on a regular rotation.”

Serves 4

Prep time — 10 minutes

Cooking time — 45 minutes


  • 2 aubergines
  • 2 tablespoons rapeseed oil
  • 3 shallots, sliced
  • 25g (¾ oz) fresh ginger root, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns, grinded (optional)
  • 100g (3½ oz) enoki mushrooms, halved lengthways if too fat
  • ½ red pepper, diced into 5 mm (¼ in) cubes
  • 1 tablespoon vegetarian oyster sauce
  • 2 tablespoons spicy bean sauce
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce or Homemade Vegan Fish Sauce (see above)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato purée
  • 1 teaspoon fermented tofu, mashed
  • 100ml (3½ fl oz) coconut water
  • 300g (10½ oz) silken tofu, cut into cubes
  • 20g (¾ oz) coriander or Thai basil, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon pink pepper (or black pepper), crushed
  • 2 tablespoons crispy chilli oil (Laoganman) or lemongrass and chilli oil (see below)


Place the aubergines over the flame of two gas hobs, which are set to medium heat. Turn the aubergines every couple of minutes and cook until all areas are soft and almost falling apart (about 6–8 minutes). If you don’t have a gas hob, you can cook the aubergines in a fan oven at 200°C (400°F/gas 6) for 25 minutes.

Once the aubergines are cooked, scoop the flesh out into a bowl, and discard the skin. Set aside.

In a medium-hot wok or frying pan, add the oil, shallot, ginger, and garlic and fry for a couple of minutes. Mix in the Sichuan peppercorns (if using), then throw in the mushrooms and red pepper, stir-fry for a moment, then add the vegetarian oyster sauce, spicy bean sauce, soy sauce, tomato purée, and mashed, fermented tofu. Stir-fry for 2 minutes to mix in all the flavors. The pan will be dry at this point, so add the coconut water to loosen and cook for another 2 minutes. 

Add the silken tofu cubes and gently fold into the aubergine and mushroom mix. Gently fold in the coriander or Thai basil, being careful not to break too many tofu cubes. Let it sizzle for another couple of minutes.

To serve, season with crushed pepper and crispy chili oil or homemade lemongrass and chili oil.

Lemongrass and chilli oil

Makes approx. 100 ml (3½ fl oz)

Prep time — 5–15 minutes

Cooking time — 15 minutes


  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 3 shallots
  • 4 lemongrass stalks, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon neutral cooking oil
  • 2 teaspoons chilli powder or chilli flakes
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon mushroom seasoning powder
  • 2 tablespoons shop-bought crispy chilli oil
  • 2 tablespoons rapeseed oil


In a grinder or small food processor, blend the garlic, shallots, and lemongrass if you don’t have a machine, finely chop by hand.


Place in a frying pan with the cooking oil and cook over medium heat for 7–10 minutes until golden. Then reduce to low heat, and add the chili powder, salt, sugar, mushroom seasoning powder, and crispy chili oil. Mix well together, then cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat, let it cool uncovered, then transfer to a sterilized jar and cover the top with the rapeseed oil.

Refrigerate and use within 3 weeks.

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