Though I am calling this vegan pad thai, this isn't just a veganized version that I made up. It's a Thai dish that I grew up eating, a dish I have always thought of as the sister of pad thai, called pad mee korat. It's a local specialty of my mom's hometown, Korat, so my grandmother made it often for us.
When I was thinking about coming up with a vegan version of pad thai, it dawned on me that pad mee korat was basically it. While pad thai necessarily contains fish sauce and eggs, pad mee korat doesn't need either of those things, but it has that same sweet-salty-sour profile. Bingo!
The two dishes even use the same noodles, vegetables, and many other ingredients. Though it usually has thinly sliced pork added, it's not essential to the dish. I couldn't have asked for a better starting point for a vegan pad thai recipe!
Traditional VS Vegan Pad Thai
How is this vegan pad thai different from the traditional pad thai recipe? There are a few things we substituted:
- Fish sauce. Fish sauce is the main flavour of pad thai, and the reason you will rarely find vegan pad thai offered in Thai restaurants. Because to make a vegan version they would have to make another batch of pad thai sauce, which most places would not do.
- Dried shrimp. These are chewy little umami bits, and here I used shiitake mushrooms instead which work wonderfully. FYI, many Thai restaurants overseas don't add them anyway, so if that's what you're used to, you won't miss it.
- Eggs. We simply omit them, but if vegetarian pad thai is what you're going for, then feel free to add them.
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Here are all the ingredients you'll need. For the amounts and instructions, see the recipe card below!
- Soy sauce. Thai soy sauce is best but it's not necessary. Confused by different types of soy sauces? See this soy sauce explainer post here!
- Tao jiew. This is Thai fermented soybean paste that is essentially the Thai version of miso. It's sold in glass bottles (Healthy Boy Brand) at Asian grocery stores that sell a lot of Thai ingredients, though it is harder to find. You can substitute equal amount of miso or doenjang.
- Tamarind paste. If buying pre-made tamarind paste, always buy ones from Thailand to make sure you have the right product. These are often labeled as tamarind concentrate (see pic below). You can also make your own tamarind paste from pulp and it's what I do. Never buy tamarind products from India as they are not the same!
- Chili flakes. It's always better when it's a little bit spicy! Red pepper flakes in Western grocery stores are barely spicy, so try grinding your own from dried Thai chilies if you like it hot.
Pad Thai Ingredients
- Dry rice noodles, medium size (2 mm wide). If you have previously had trouble working with rice noodles, be sure to check out this ultimate guide to mastering rice noodles.
- Neutral oil, this can be any neutral flavoured cooking oil you normally use. I use avocado oil or canola oil
- Pressed tofu. Pressed tofu is the firmest tofu you can buy. It has a nice chew and will not fall apart in the wok. It's also the tofu that's traditionally used in pad thai. Sometimes they are labeled as "bean curd". If not available, use extra firm tofu or fried tofu.
- Fresh shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced. If stems are thick and hard, remove them. If they're small and tender you can leave them on.
- Shallots, chopped
- Garlic, chopped
- Palm sugar. Light brown sugar can be used instead.
- Garlic chives, cut into 2-inch pieces. If not available you can substitute green onions (though they don't taste the same), but chop green onions smaller and use less as they are more intense in flavour than garlic chives.
- Bean sprouts. Be sure to get mung bean sprouts, not soybean sprouts.
- Roasted peanuts, roughly crushed or chopped. Peanuts are not typically added to pad mee korat, but I add them to bring the flavour closer to pad thai.
- Lime wedges for serving, optional. Again, not typical in pad mee korat but it always accompanies pad thai.
A few ingredient notes:
- If you're vegetarian and eat eggs, you can add eggs if you like.
- In my Classic Pad Thai recipe I also add sweet preserved radish. They're not used in pad mee korat, and most people can't get them anyway, so I have decided to omit them here. Feel free to add them if you want to nudge the flavour even closer to traditional pad thai!
How to Make Vegan Pad Thai
- Soak rice noodles in room temperature water for 1 hour or until they are completely pliable. Drain and set aside. If in a rush you can soak noodles in hot off the boil water and soak for 3 minutes, then drain and rinse immediately under cold water.
- Make the sauce: Add tao jiew to a small bowl and mash with a fork to break up the soybeans, then add the rest of the sauce ingredients and stir to mix.
- In a wok or a large nonstick skillet, sear the mushrooms and tofu in a little bit of oil until golden. Toss and continue to cook for 1 more minute or until the mushrooms are cooked through. Remove from pan and set aside.
- To the same pan, heat about 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, shallots and palm sugar and cook, stirring frequently until the sugar caramelizes into a deep brown colour.
- Deglaze with the sauce mixture, and turn the heat up to high. Add the rice noodles and the mushrooms and tofu. Keep tossing until all the sauce has been absorbed. If the liquid has been absorbed but the noodles are still undercooked, add a splash of water and keep it cooking longer. (Even if the noodles look cooked, you still want to taste them to be sure).
- If you want to add eggs: Once the noodles have absorbed the sauce, push the noodles to one side. Add eggs into the empty space, break the yolks and let the eggs set about half way. Then put the noodles over the eggs and let the eggs cook for 30 more seconds until the egg is set. Then toss to break up the eggs.
- Turn off the heat, add bean sprouts and garlic chives and toss to mix. Taste and adjust seasoning. Plate and sprinkle with roasted peanuts, and serve with chili flakes and some extra beansprouts. If you feel like it needs a little zing, squeeze a little lime juice over it!
Tips for Advance Prep
If you have all your ingredients ready, the cooking will take literally 5 minutes. So prepare ingredients as per these suggestions to enjoy weeknight pad thai!
- The sauce can be made in bulk and in advance and kept in the fridge indefinitely. Follow the cooking instructions up until adding the sauce to the caramelized sugar, then keep the sauce in a sealed container in the fridge. This sauce will keep for a long time.
*If keeping multiple batches of sauce in one container, measure the amount of sauce you have and divide by the number of batches so you know how much sauce you ened per batch. Tape this amount onto the container.
- You can soak the noodles in advance, drain well (dab it with a towel to ensure no water pooling in the container) and keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.
- Chop all your vegetables and keep them in an airtight container and they will last for a week!
I get asked all the time how leftover pad thai should be stored and heated, and unfortunately rice noodles do not keep well, so ideally, you don't want to have leftovers. If you want to have it again later in the week, it's better to prep all the ingredients (see tips above) and cook a fresh batch because the cooking takes only a few minutes!
But sometimes you just can't help it. In which case, keep it in the fridge in an airtight container for ideally no more than 1 day. The longer you keep it, the more mushy they become.
When you reheat, you can quickly saute it in a skillet (better) or microwave it. However you reheat, it's crucial that the noodles are reheated until piping hot, and not just warm, or the will not regain their full softness.Print
This vegan pad thai is also known as pad mee korat. You'll get the same sweet, salty, sour balance and chewy noodles...but all completely plant based! It's an easy recipe, with an option to add eggs if desired.
- 4 oz (112 g) dry rice noodles, medium size (2 mm wide)
- 3 Tbsp (45 ml) vegetable oil
- ¾ cup (85 g) pressed tofu, cut into small pieces
- 1 cup fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, thinly sliced
- 3 Tbsp (35 g) finely chopped palm sugar, packed
- ¼ cup chopped shallot
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- ¾ cup (180 ml) garlic chives, cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1 cup (50 g) bean sprouts, plus extra for serving
- ¼ cup roasted peanuts, chopped (optional)
Note: If you eat eggs, you can add 2 eggs to this recipe.
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 ½ Tbsp fermented soybean paste or "tao jiew" or substitute 1 tablespoon Korean doenjang or Japanese miso (what is tao jiew)
- 2 ½ - 3 tablespoon tamarind paste, store bought or homemade (see note)
- ½ - 1 teaspoon chili flakes, or to taste
- 3 Tbsp water
- Soak rice noodles in room temperature water for 1 hour or until they turn white. Drain and set aside. You can soak the noodles in advance, drain, and keep in a sealed container in the fridge until ready to use, up to 2-3 days.
- Make the sauce: Add tao jiew to a small bowl and mash roughly with a fork to break up the soybeans (if using miso or doenjang, place in a small bowl it with 1 Tbsp of water and stir to loosen the paste.) Add all remaining sauce ingredients and stir to mix.
- Add about 1 tablespoon of oil to a wok or a large sauté pan and heat over medium high heat. Once hot, add mushrooms and tofu. Spread them out and let sear until golden. Toss and continue to cook for 1 more minute or until the mushrooms are cooked through. Remove from pan and set aside.
- To the same pan, heat about 2 tablespoon of oil over medium high heat. Add garlic, shallots and palm sugar and cook, stirring frequently until the sugar caramelizes into a deep brown colour.
- Deglaze with the sauce mixture then add the rice noodles, mushrooms and tofu. Keep tossing until all the sauce has been absorbed. Taste the noodles, and if they are still undercooked, add a splash of water and let cook until dry again. You can also add a little more tamarind if you think it needs it.
- If you want to add eggs: Once the noodles have absorbed most of the sauce, push the noodles to one side. Add eggs into the empty space, break the yolks and let the eggs set about half way. Then put the noodles over the eggs and let the eggs cook for 30 more seconds until the egg is set. Then toss to break up the eggs.
- Turn off the heat, add bean sprouts and garlic chives and toss to mix. Taste and adjust seasoning. Plate and sprinkle with roasted peanuts, if using.
- Only buy tamarind from Thailand, which is sometimes labeled as "tamarind concentrate. Sourness varies significantly between brands, so start with 2 ½ tablespoon and add more at the end if needed. Do not buy tamarind paste from India because it is much more concentrated.