The first time I ever ate Thai food was in college. That was one of the many perks of going to school in a big city – there were endless opportunities to expand my culinary boundaries. Just as it is for many people, Pad Thai was my “gateway dish” to this foreign cuisine. It contained familiar ingredients – noodles, peanuts, and cilantro, but was so different than anything I had ever tasted. Sweet, sour, and salty all at once – I was completely hooked.
It’s been more than 10 years since that night at Penny’s Noodles where my friend Erin helped me navigate the menu and pick a “safe” dish for a newbie. I still adore Pad Thai, but I’ve branched out and also count Tom Kha (coconut soup) and Panang Curry among my favorite Thai dishes. I even spent a month in Thailand a couple of years ago, and I’m going back in March to lead a yoga and vegan cooking retreat with my friend, Amie. To say I’m a Thai food fanatic would be an understatement. I’m kind of obsessed.
I’ve been working on some authentic (but also vegan) Thai recipes to teach my retreat guests this spring, and the Pad Thai sauce in this recipe is one of them. Pad Thai is traditionally made with fish sauce, which gives the dish a very specific salty flavor – an obvious no-no if you’re vegan. Despite it lacking in my version, I think this recipe comes really close to the real thing. Sweet potato noodles made with a spiralizer offer a fun twist on this traditional dish.
Our vegan Pad Thai comes with all the tasty fanfare you’d get at a Thai restaurant or from a food cart in Bangkok. Marinated tofu, scallions, bean sprouts, peanuts, fresh cilantro, and lime make for a bomb meal you can enjoy hot or cold (the chilled version is perfect for a packed lunch!) Meal prep tip: Marinate the tofu, make the Pad Thai sauce, and spiralize your sweet potatoes the day before for a quick and easy dinner.
A quick note on the ingredients: tamarind concentrate is essential to this recipe, though you can swap it with some lime juice if necessary (tamarind balances the flavor of the sauce, making it a bit sour). I bought mine on Amazon; you can find tamarind concentrate here. I also included preserved radish in this recipe. It's not essential for this dish to work, but it is found in authentic Thai food. If you're intrigued, I also purchased this on Amazon. You can find preserved radish here.
Our vegan Pad Thai comes with all the tasty fanfare you’d get at a Thai restaurant or from a food cart in Bangkok. Marinated tofu, scallions, bean sprouts, peanuts, fresh cilantro, and lime make for a bomb meal you can enjoy hot or cold (the chilled version is perfect for a packed lunch!)
For the tofu:
- 6 oz. extra-firm tofu (half of a 12-oz. package)
- 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
- ½ Tbsp. rice vinegar
- ½ Tbsp. sesame oil
- 1 Tbsp. coconut oil, for frying
For the Pad Thai:
- 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled
- 2 Tbsp. preserved minced radish (optional)
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 bundle scallions, tops and bottoms
- 1 cup bean sprouts (plus extra, for serving)
- 1 Tbsp. coconut oil
- ¾ cup Pad Thai sauce
- ¼ cup peanuts, chopped, for serving
- Small handful of fresh cilantro, chopped, for serving
- ½ lime, sliced, for serving
For the Pad Thai sauce:
- 1 tsp. tamarind concentrate
- 3 Tbsp. water
- ¼ cup coconut palm syrup or agave
- 1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- Drain the tofu and press it between a few layers of paper towels to remove as much liquid as possible (you may have to switch out the paper towels a few times). Slice the tofu into bite-sized cubes and place them in a Ziplock freezer bag along with the soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil. Seal the bag and squish it around to coat the tofu in the marinade. Allow it to sit while you prep the other components.
- Use the spaghetti blade on your spiralizer to make noodles from the sweet potatoes. Set the noodles aside in a large bowl.
- If you’re using preserved radish, rinse it with water in a fine mesh strainer. Mince the garlic and add it to a prep bowl with the preserved radish. Finely chop the light green part of the scallions and add it to the preserved radish and garlic. Slice the tops of the green onion into 1-inch long pieces and set aside with the bean sprouts.
- To cook the tofu, melt a tablespoon of coconut oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the tofu to the pan using a slotted spoon (leave any remaining marinade in the bag). Cook the tofu for 4 to 5 minutes on each side, until lightly browned. Transfer to a plate and carefully wipe the skillet clean.
- As the tofu cooks, make the sauce. Add the tamarind paste to a bowl and stir in the water to dilute. Then whisk in the coconut palm syrup or agave, rice vinegar, and soy sauce.
- Add the remaining tablespoon of coconut oil to the skillet and place over medium heat. Add the preserved radish, garlic, and the light green part of the scallions. Sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Spill the sweet potato noodles into the skillet and, using a pair of tongs, gently toss to coat them in the oil. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the noodles have reduced in volume by a third.
- Pour half of the Pad Thai sauce into the skillet to coat the sweet potato noodles. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid evaporates, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the second half of the Pad Thai sauce and repeat, testing the noodles frequently to avoid a mushy mess. The noodles should be tender, but still have a bite to them.
- When the sweet potato noodles are nearly done, add the bean sprouts and green tops of the scallions to the skillet. Fold the noodles over the veggies to create a little pocket where they can steam, about 30 seconds more. Stir in the tofu to heat through. When the sweet potato noodles are tender and most of the liquid has cooked off, remove from heat.
- Divide the Pad Thai between two bowls. Garnish with chopped peanuts, bean sprouts, cilantro, and a lime wedge. Enjoy warm.