Friday, 6 November 2009

Recreating Pad Thai

Every now and again I feel the need to recreate a meal I love eating in restaurants but am intimidated about making at home. Pad Thai is just such one of these dishes. I love it with the flat noodles, chunks of tofu, crunch of peanuts and fresh bean sprouts. Making it at home had the advantage of being able to make it my way. Lots of vegetables and no egg.

I decided to try it a few weeks back. I bought the tamarind paste and bean sprouts which are not usually in my kitchen. I searched recipes. I found Pim’s sage advice via Nupur. Pim takes your hand and walks you thought the elements of Pad Thai with lots of tips and chats about the sour, salty, sweet and chilli flavours. She is into her meat and seafood so I turned to Andrea’s Easy Vegan Cooking for a vegan recipe full of tofu and vegetables.

My first attempt was not quite right. I was intimidated enough to prepare everything before I started. The sourness of the gloopy tamarind paste gave the right flavour but the chillis weren’t hot enough and the long life soft noodles were too few and too soft. But I know I was close.

This week I returned to Project Pad Thai. I bought dried noodles which worked better – other than when I tipped them down the sink by accident when trying to drain them and had to scoop them up. I was amused to see the brand was Pandaroo and I thought the packaging was cute. The red chilli I bought gave a pleasing warm tingle, which is all I want given that I am a chilli wimp. I also added more tofu because I felt the first attempt was lacking a little there.

The ingredient, other than tamarind, that really challenged me was palm sugar. It is something that I have never seen before and didn’t really know what it was. I looked in small ethnic supermarkets without luck and then found it in the large local supermarket. It came in lumps that reminded me of sugar lumps but it was more sandy and together. I have seen that you can grate or chop it so I chopped it into small pieces and mixed it into the marinade where I think it dissolved. I am not sure it made the marinade very different to agave syrup that I used the first time. Now I have a box of palm sugar to use but I guess I can substitute it for regular sugar in baking. In future I probably wouldn’t bother buying it but I think tamarind is important to the flavour.

The second time I made the Pad Thai it was much better. The noodles and tofu seemed right and I loved all the vegetables. I forgot the lime wedges but we weren’t too bothered because last time E overdid the lime juice on his. I think bean sprouts are necessary but I hate having to buy a whole packet in a plastic bag when I only want a handful, especially as E doesn’t like them. As for fresh coriander, I avoid it and tried both basil and parsley which are ok but if you can stomach coriander it is probably more authentic.

I am pleased with the below version of the recipe. There was a little marinade leftover but Pim says it is better to have too much than too little and she advises that it can be kept in the fridge for next time. I recommend keeping it rather than tipping it all in as the noodles should be just coated with no sauce sloshing around. The preparation is very important as there is very little cooking involved. I quite enjoyed the slight crunch in the vegetables but make sure they are chopped into thin matchstick pieces.

Some of you will make Pad Thai without much fuss or sweat. But if you want help in making a good vegan one I suggest checking out Pim’s advice and I hope this post will also help. We are not going out for dinner very much at the moment and it is a small consolation to be able to have a favourite restaurant meal at home. I will be returning to this recipe and hope that eventually I will be more relaxed about it. It really isn't that difficult!

Vegetarian Pad Thai
Inspired by Pim
Serves 4

  • 500g firm tofu, diced
  • 200g dried rice stick noodles
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 2 carrots, chopped in matchsticks
  • 1/2 red capsicum, chopped in matchsticks
  • 1 bunch asparagus, chopped in matchsticks
  • 1 handful snow peas, chopped in matchsticks
  • 3 spring onions, thinly slice vertically
  • 10 button mushrooms, sliced


  • 3 tbsp tamarind paste
  • 3 tbsp tamari
  • 1 tbsp kecap manis
  • 2 tbsp chopped palm sugar
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped, or to taste
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

To serve:

  • handful peanuts, chopped
  • couple of handfuls of sprouts
  • small handful of coriander (or basil or parsley)
  • lime wedges to serve

Mix all the marinade ingredients together in a medium bowl and taste to check the flavours balance together. Toss tofu chunks in it so they are covered. Marinate for at least 30 minutes. You will probably need this time to prepare the vegetables if you cut at the same rate as me.

Now pour boiling water over noodles and leave for 20 minutes, then rinse under cold water.

While tofu and noodles are set aside, chop the vegetables. Then heat oil in a wok or large frying pan over medium heat. Use a spoon or fork to remove the tofu from the marinade. Stir fry tofu, carrot and mushrooms for about 4 minutes. (If you want to have leftovers, you can make up to this point but I found that the noodles were not great the next day.) Add noodles, asparagus, snow peas, spring onion and enough of the extra sauce to coat everything and stir fry for 1-2 minutes. Put any leftover marinade in fridge for another time.

To serve spoon some noodle mixture into a bowl. You can serve on a table with bowls of bean sprouts, peanuts, coriander and lime wedges for everyone to help themselves or you can arrange these on top of each bowlful.

On the Stereo:
At First Sight, Violets are Blue: The Stems


  1. Well, I love pad thai, but I've never been a fan of tamarind (which I've only really tried as tamarind pickle - much too strong & bitter for my tastes!) ... I usually make a bit of a variant, but I've bookmarked your recipe and will try to be more authentic next time I fancy something like this. I might even brave buying some tamarind!

  2. I love pad thai & that looks great, I am going to have to try it.

    I also LOVE the song At First Sight by The Stems, I am pushing to get it in my wedding somewhere.

  3. Thanks Rachel - this is the first time I have bought tamarind which I find very sour but I love pad thai and it does taste right in it - I now have a little tub that I need to find ways to use so it may appear again

    Thanks Vicki - let me know how you go with the pad thai - and hope you can get the stems into your wedding - classic aussie garage band!

  4. yumm..i love pad thai, but never seems to get it right, I think it's the tamarind that makes all the difference. Oh yeah, I think I've seen tamarind used in some indian curry recipes.

  5. thanks for this recipe! i really love pad thai but hardly ever order it because of the whole meaty, eggy, fish saucey drama. glad to see you persisted until you got what you wanted

  6. Hi Johanna

    I've found it's very difficult to get real vegetarian food in Thailand. Even when they say it's "vegetarian" you just know someone has squirted some fish sauce or similar into it. I guess the only way to be really sure is to make it at home, just like you did.

    I like the way you admitted you didn't get it right first time. That sort of thing often happens to me too.

  7. That's good that you only had to give it a couple of goes to get one that tastes great! :)

  8. I so love pad Thai & your creation looks delicious!

  9. Pad Thai is one of my takeaway favourites - my homemade ones never taste quite the same but I suspect that might relate to the amount of oil I'm (un)willing to add! I love a generous dose of tamarind, though.

  10. I've been looking for a good vegetarian Pad Thai recipe FOREVER. Yours looks great. The challenge over here is finding tamarind and the other authentic ingredients--they are easily available, but in downtown Toronto, a bit of a trek for dinner ingredients. But next time I'm in the city I will suss them out!

  11. Thanks Amanda - I think you are right about indian dishes using tamarind - I got my stash at an indian grocery - need to check out some of those recipes

    Thanks Philippa - I know what you mean about avoiding the fish, meat and egg - I will eat it with egg at a pinch but prefer not to

    Thanks Not Delia - I don't always get things right but really wanted this recipe right because I want to come back to it - and like you say, the best way to know a pad thai is really veg is to make it at home

    Thanks Lorraine - if I was a perfectionist I am sure I could have had quite a few goes to make it superb but I was happy with the second one

    Thanks Sophie - it was

    Thanks Cindy - I should have looked at your recipe before making mine - I had wondered if I should have fried the tofu first and was interested that you did but I liked it marinated

    thanks Ricki - it is something I have been meaning to make and see recipes I would like to try and then forget where they are - as I noted above, I found tamarind in an indian shop and I wouldn't bother with palm sugar - just use any sweetner - and you could get by without kecap manis which is just sweetish soy sauce

  12. Mmm it looks delicious! I love pad thai and have only tried making it at home a couple of times. I've never used tamarind paste in it though - I should give that a try. It's understandable to be stressed out about the recipe. I get that way when I'm making something that I love at home for the first time and want it to be perfect. Which is how I feel about salsa - something so simple to make yet I'm totally scared of it!

  13. This is the Tamarind Sauce I used to make when I was a chef in a Thai Restaurant - .. It makes a heap but you can always play around with quantities. I also use tamarind paste and add the other ingredients & water until I get a sweet tart flavour (changes once in the meal).

    To make the Pad Thai -
    * heat oil wok/frypan
    * cook meat/tofu
    * add lightly beaten eggs and stir in with meat/tofu until half cooked
    * add the stick noodles (soak them in water for a little while to make them soft - then cut up with scissors for smaller bite size) - cook
    * add tamarind, sugar, chicken stock (powder), dash fish sauce - stir in
    * add crushed roasted peanuts - stir in
    * add bean sprouts & shallots chopped small (the firm end parts near the roots - after the white)

    It's all to taste

  14. What a fabulous blog - have been browsing for ages now (looking to put together a vegan feast for friends) Thanks for the inspiration!


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