Need an impressive, one-pan vegetarian meal to feed your family or a small dinner party? This Pad thai takes under an hour to prep and cook with only a few specialized ingredients. It’s deliciously satisfying for both vegetarian and carnivorous folks.
Every time I eat pad thai, I’m always blown away by how comforting the noodles taste no matter how many times I’ve had it. Pad thai is known to hit various areas of the palette: sweet, sour, and salty, plus a crunchy texture that comes from the fresh toppings.
Unlike some pad thai recipes, this recipe calls for a short amount of soaking time for the rice noodles. Instead, they are simmered in the sauce a bit longer, giving every bite so much flavor.
The textures from the stir-fried veggies, seared tofu, chewy noodles, and fresh toppings such as peanuts, fresh cilantro, and bean sprouts adds to the experience of eating pad thai. It’s absolutely worth the time and effort just to hear all the compliments from your family or guests!
Use Tamarind for an Authentic Taste
Tamarind has the texture of dried apricots with the sweet and tangy fruit protected by a thin, hollow shell. Tamarind is used in all sorts of cuisines across the world, from Asia to the tropical islands of South America. It adds a bold, tangy flavor when citrus isn’t available. It’s a staple in Southeast Asian cuisine and is a key ingredient in pad thai.
Tamarind is available in a few different forms: whole fruit, pulp, or concentrate. For this recipe, I like to use the concentrate to cut down on prep time. You can find tamarind concentrate in the Asian or Hispanic foods section at most conventional stores, at most Asian markets in the canned fruit or condiments section, or online.
Although I highly encourage trying your best to stick to the recipe, there are many different ways you can substitute tamarind concentrate with staple pantry goods. My best suggestion is to use a mango chutney.
The Key Components of Pad Thai
- Tofu: This stir-fry calls for a lot of tossing and turning, so a sturdy tofu will be your best friend when making vegetarian pad thai. I like to use extra-firm or firm tofu that usually comes in a sealed, plastic square tub. A good sear on your tofu prior to adding other ingredients gives it a nice bite and prevents it from getting soggy.
- Rice Noodles: Pad thai is known for its flat rice noodles (also called “rice sticks”). Asian pantry goods are more accessible these days so your nationwide grocer will often carry these noodles. If you are lucky enough to live in a city with abundant Asian markets, they will have various kinds of rice noodles and, of course, you can always order them online. A dry pack of flat, thin rice noodles ranging from 1/4 to 1/2 inch in width will do.
- The Sauce: The sauce is what really makes pad thai such a recognizable and beloved noodle dish. Thai folks and pad thai connoisseurs agree the flavor profile should be salty and sweet with a touch of tang. The coating for the noodles should be a bit on the tacky, drier side, and not too saucy or gravy-like after its been thoroughly stir-fried with the noodles. I think white pepper helps add a unique flavor that the sauce can lack without real fish sauce.
- The Crunchies: Pad thai isn’t the same without fresh, crunchy toppings like peanuts and bean sprouts. I include veggies that are affordable, accessible, and integrate well with this dish. Normally, you can find mung bean sprouts in a specialty produce area—the same place you’d find lemongrass, or next to the sprouts and microgreens.
Swap In, Swap Out
I highly recommend using ingredients that are listed in the recipe to keep the dish as close to authentic pad thai as possible. If you need to make a substitution, here are some suggestions:
- Use soy sauce or liquid aminos in place of the vegan fish sauce. Feel free to use regular fish sauce if you are pescatarian.
- For those who can’t eat tofu or just don’t like it, you can completely omit it and add about a cup more veggies.
- To replace peanuts, substitute with unsalted nuts that offer a buttery toasty flavor such as almonds, walnuts, or pecans. Or, to completely omit nuts, try using toasted, crunchy garbanzo beans.
- If you absolutely can’t find mung bean sprouts, thinly sliced, raw cabbage will do, or have fun and substitute with julienned bell peppers or snow peas. This will have a similar essence of crunch and flavor and will add extra color to your pad thai.
Oodles of Noodles
Vegetarian Pad Thai
You’ll need a very large pan to make this big batch of pad thai. If your pan isn’t big enough, halve the recipe or cook it in batches.
1 (14-ounce) package rice noodles (1/4 to 1/2-inch wide)
For the sauce
1 cup water
1/2 cup tamarind concentrate
1/2 cup vegetarian fish sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes (optional)
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
For the stir-fry
1 (16-ounce) pack firm or extra-firm tofu, cubed
3 to 4 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
2 large eggs
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large shallot, minced
1 medium carrot, shredded (about 1 cup)
1/4 head cabbage, shredded
1 cup mung bean sprouts
3 green onions, trimmed and julienned into 2-inch long pieces
1/4 cup peanuts, roughly chopped
Salt, if needed, to taste
For the toppings
1 bunch fresh cilantro, leaves roughly chopped
2 limes, quartered
1/4 cup peanuts, roughly chopped
1 green onion, sliced
Red chili flakes, to taste
- Large wok or 1 (14 to 16-inch) deep non-stick frying pan
Prepare the noodles:
Fill a large bowl halfway with lukewarm water and slide in the rice noodles. If needed, add more water to the noodles or use a plate to weigh them down so they are submerged. Let the soak at least 10 minutes, or until ready to stir-fry.
Make the sauce:
Add all of the sauce ingredients to a medium bowl or large measuring pitcher and whisk to combine and dissolve the sugar. Taste, adding more sugar or salt if needed. It should be salty, tangy, and lightly sweet. Set aside until you are ready to stir-fry your noodles.
The flavor of your sauce will vary depending on the brand or type of tamarind concentrate. If you’re using a tamarind purée, you may need to add more sugar.
Prepare the tofu and drain the noodles:
Place a few layers of paper towels onto a sturdy plate and place the cubed tofu on top in a single layer. Add another few layers of paper towels on top, then place a sturdy plate on top. Give it a light press until some liquid is released from the tofu.
Once the noodles have soaked for at least 10 minutes, drain them in a colander. You should be able to bend them without snapping.
Fry the tofu:
Heat up a large wok, a 14 to 16-inch, deep non-stick frying pan, or a large electric skillet to medium-high and add 2 tablespoons of oil. Once hot, add the prepared tofu. Let one side sear for about 1 minute or until it is golden. Use tongs or a spatula to flip your tofu pieces so 2 sides are golden.
Stir-fry the vegetables and egg:
Add another tablespoon of oil into the pan, then crack the eggs in with the tofu. Give the eggs a quick stir, turn the heat down to medium, and add the garlic and shallots. Sauté until the eggs are soft scrambled, 2 to 3 minutes.
Push the eggs aside and add the carrot, cabbage, bean sprouts, and green onions. Turn the heat back up to medium-high and let the vegetables sear for 2 to 3 minutes, then stir until they are beginning to soften.
Add the rice noodles:
Add the drained rice noodles and toss with the vegetables. Give the sauce a stir and pour it into the frying pan.
Add the peanuts and adjust the heat to bring it to a boil and then maintain a simmer. Let simmer until the noodles start to soften, tossing occasionally, about 5 minutes.
Carefully stir fry the rice noodles until they are thoroughly coated in the sauce, the noodles are al dente, and the sauce has mostly soaked in to form a tacky coating, 5 to 10 minutes. Turn off the heat.
Before plating, give the pad thai a taste. Add any additional seasoning to the sauce like vegetarian fish sauce, salt, or sugar, if needed.
Serve the pad thai hot with fresh cilantro, lime wedges, chopped peanuts, green onions, and red pepper flakes for topping.
Store leftover pad thai in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop.
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|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 17g||22%|
|Saturated Fat 2g||11%|
|Total Carbohydrate 47g||17%|
|Dietary Fiber 6g||22%|
|Total Sugars 18g|
|Vitamin C 38mg||192%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|