Pad Thai goes vegetarian! Crispy pan-seared tofu is your protein, and salt takes the place of fish sauce for a vegetarian spin on this favorite takeout dish.
For the pad Thai:
- 1 (14-ounce) package flat, wide rice noodles
- 2 to 3 teaspoons salt
- 3/4 cup rice vinegar
- 1 to 2 teaspoons tamarind paste or concentrate
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- Pinch of paprika (or cayenne powder)
- 10 to 12 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil, divided
- 1 pound tofu, extra firm, drained and cubed
- 4 large eggs
- 1/3 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts, chopped roughly
- 1 cup bean sprouts
For garnish (optional):
- 1 lime, cut into quarters
- 2 tablespoons roasted, unsalted peanuts, chopped roughly
- Chopped cilantro, for garnish
- Red pepper flakes, for garnish
1 Soak the rice noodles: In a large container, preferably one with a lid, soak the noodles in cold water, enough to cover so that no noodle is poking out. Soak for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours. It can be refrigerated, or not—it doesn’t matter.
2 Make the sauce: In a shallow bowl, whisk together 2 teaspoons of salt, vinegar, tamarind concentrate, and sugar until smooth. Taste. Adjust the sauce as needed; you may need to add more salt depending on the other ingredients. Add a pinch of paprika or cayenne powder for color.
You’ll only need about 1/2 cup of sauce for this recipe (1/4 cup per batch). Any extra sauce can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 months or used on leftovers.
3 Bring a large pot of water to boil.
4 Divide all of your ingredients into two batches. Arrange them near your stove. You’ll prepare each batch completely, one after the next.
WORKING ONE BATCH AT A TIME:
5 Cook the tofu: Heat a wok or other large pan with high sides over high heat, which you will maintain throughout cooking the pad Thai. Add 2 tablespoons of oil. When it starts to shimmer a bit, it’s ready.
Add the tofu for your first batch to the pan and let it get some color on it, about 2 to 3 minutes. Toss it frequently once you’ve got some browning on one side. You won’t get browning on all sides. Cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, and then remove the tofu to a plate. Set aside.
6 Cook the eggs: Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of oil to the pan. When the oil starts to shimmer a bit, it’s ready.
Crack the eggs for this batch into the pan and, using the tip of a wooden spoon, gently loosen the yolk. There should be enough oil in the pan so it looks as though the egg is floating, or suspended, in the oil. This gives you more surface area to cook the egg without it burning.
Gently shake and flip the egg around in the pan. Break it up a bit with the spoon, but don’t scramble it by any means. This should take about a minute.
Push the eggs off to the side of the pan to make room for the tofu. Add the tofu back to the pan.
7 Soften the noodles: Take several handfuls of your noodles (about half the total amount) out of the water they’re soaking in, and transfer to a fine mesh sieve. Using the sieve saves you from having to cook and then strain the noodles—and makes the process move more quickly.
Hold the sieve over the pot of hot water and gently dip the noodles up and down, in and out of the water, to soften them but not cook them per se. They don’t need to be completely cooked at this point, because they will continue to cook in the wok.
Shake out the excess hot water and taste to make sure the noodles have softened but still have a little give.
8 Add the noodles to the pan: Transfer the noodles to the hot pan. Toss them gently in the pan and stir them briefly to keep them from sticking together. When the noodles look shiny, after about a minute or so, it’s time for the sauce.
9 Add the sauce: Add about 1/4 cup of the sauce to the pan and gently toss and flip the noodles in the pan. Stir them quickly to integrate the sauce; you’ll know it’s ready when you can’t see any more sauce in the pan because the noodles have absorbed it.
If it seems like it needs more, add a little more, and cook until it’s absorbed. Taste. (Pad Thai is very much an intuitive, taste-as-you-go kind of dish.) This shouldn’t take more than a minute or two.
10 Add the peanuts and bean sprouts: Add the peanuts and the sprouts, and toss all ingredients together quickly. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes all together until everything is heated through. The noodles will begin to soften and look more translucent.
11 Taste and serve: Turn the heat off the pan and taste to make sure there is enough sauce to flavor the dish. Serve immediately in individual bowls with wedges of lime, along with additional peanuts, chopped cilantro, and chili flakes, if desired.
12 Repeat steps 5 through 11 for making the second batch of pad Thai.