Pad Thai

You wouldn’t know it from the posts so far – you probably think I only eat pizza – but my favorite food is Asian. I can’t narrow it down any more than that because I love all types of Asian food, which is good new for me because many Asian recipes are naturally vegan or very easy to veganize. I made Pad Thai for lunch today. Good news for you: Pad Thai is very quick and easy to make! The only thing that takes any time is soaking the noodles. But you can even cheat at that and cook them, in which case preparing the entire meal takes maybe 20 minutes.

When making a veggie Pad Thai, you can throw whatever veggies you want in. Unlike pizza, which I like simple, I like to put a lot of veggies in my noodles, which makes them more interesting and nutritious.

Pad Thai

This recipe makes about 4 servings.

1/2 package ban pho (rice noodles; available at any Asian grocer)

Sauce ingredients

These amounts are all approximations; mix to your own taste.

1/3 cup soy sauce or vegan “fish” sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp tamarind concentrate
1/4 – 1 tsp red pepper flakes

Other ingredients

Other than the shallots, all of the veggies are optional and/or can be substituted with other veggies of your liking.

2 shallots, chopped
1 carrot, julienned
1/4 cup cubed tofu (you can use fresh extra-firm tofu, pre-fried tofu, or the kind that comes pressed)
1/2 red pepper, chopped
2 Tbsp garlic chives (I used regular chives today because that’s what I had)
1 cup bean sprouts


crushed peanuts
quartered limes (I didn’t have any today and used a lemon instead)
chopped cilantro
additional red pepper flakes

First, soak your rice noodles in some water; the warmer the water, the faster they will soften. You want them to soften to just barely al dente, which will probably take 30-45 minutes. I got tired of waiting after half an hour (I was starving) and turned the burner on for about 5 minutes. The water never made it to a boil, but the noodles softened quickly. Do NOT overcook them. Drain them when they are ready.

This is what they look like as they are soaking:

While the noodles are soaking, prepare the sauce. I put some soy sauce in the photograph (Vietnamese soy sauce is all I had; I guess Thai soy sauce would have been better), but I actually used some mock fish sauce I made from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, because I had it leftover from an earlier experiment. Bittman’s recipe isn’t bad, but I’ve always just used soy sauce in the past, so don’t feel like you need to go out of your way to make fake fish sauce. Soy sauce is the normal vegetarian sub. Whisk all of the sauce ingredients together. I’m heavy-handed with the red pepper flakes because my husband and I both like everything super spicy, but since you can garnish with extra later, it’s much better to use too little in the sauce.

Next prep all your veggies. You may have noticed the humongous carrot I have in the photo. I buy these huge carrots at the Asian grocery store because they are excellent for using on my mandolin, but if you don’t have a mandolin and/or don’t have bizzarely huge carrots, just chop it up into matchsticks with a knife.

Here are all of my veggies, prepped and ready to go. It is essential that you completely prep everything before you start cooking because the cooking goes extremely quickly.

Prepare your garnishes before you do the cooking as well. Crush or chop the peanuts. I just stick them in a mortar and pestle (I’m using a molcajete here because they don’t jump out of it.)

As previously discussed, I kill cilantro plants and didn’t have any fresh on hand. If you do, chop it up now. I used the frozen cilantro I got at Trader Joe’s, which I actually threw in the wok. But usually you would just toss the fresh leaves with the noodles.

Heat your wok up pretty hot. Now, I try to be conscious of the fact that not everyone has as many kitchen toys as I do and suggest alternatives where I can, but I’m not sure you can substitute anything for a wok when making Pad Thai. An ordinary frying pan is probably just not large enough. If it’s all you have, you may have to make one serving at a time. Even if you have a wok, you are only supposed to make two servings of Pad Thai at a time, although I got away with doing all four servings at once. The good news is woks are one of the few things that you don’t have to spend a lot of money on to get a higher quality. I authorize you to buy the cheapest wok you can find. Do NOT buy a non-stick wok. I don’t even know why such a thing exists. Not only are well-seasoned woks naturally non-stick, but woks are made for very fast cooking at very high temperatures – much higher than you can safely heat any non-stick coating. Non-stick woks are completely useless and in fact, dangerous. Non-stick woks sort of make me angry.

OK, enough lecturing. When your wok is hot, add some peanut oil. Pad Thai is generally fairly greasy, but I use only enough oil to get by. Add the shallots and stir-fry for a minute or two.

Add the remaining veggies (except the bean sprouts), one by one, beginning with those that take the longest to cook and finishing with the ones that take the least time, stir-frying for 30 seconds to a minute between additions. The reason for staggering the addition of veggies to a wok is not just because some take longer than others, but because every time you add something to the wok, it brings the temperature of the wok down, and you want the wok to remain very hot. So you are just adding a little bit at a time to allow the wok to recover temperature-wise. Don’t be tempted to dump a bunch of stuff in at once. I ordered my veggies like this: carrots, tofu, peppers, chives.

Since I was using frozen cilantro, I threw it in with the last of the veggies. After the last addition of veggies, dump the noodles in. As I said before, you shouldn’t put more than two servings of noodles in the wok at a time, so ideally you would only have been putting half the veggies in, and now adding half the noodles. Don’t crowd the wok. Mix everything up.

Now add the sauce and mix well. Finally add the bean sprouts and toss.

To serve, place a serving of noodles on a plate with a lime (or lemon if you must) wedge. Top with cilantro leaves and crushed peanuts. Pass additional chili flakes and peanuts around the table so others can spice to their tastes.

Enjoy! Pad Thai is actually a very quick meal once you know how to do it; it’s all prep time. If you buy pre-prepped veggies, or if you chopped extra veggies for a meal earlier in the week, and if you cook instead of soaking the noodles, you could have this ready in ten minutes!

By the way, Chez Pim has a very thorough tutorial on making Pad Thai, which I definitely recommend for further reading.

1 Comment »

  1. Jain Said,

    February 21, 2011 @ 12:59 am

    Your “Fastest Pad Thai Ever” recipe grabbed me but I figured I couldn’t try the “Fastest” before I knew what the real deal was like… so I made this today. It was great!

    I confess I used a cast iron skillet (seasoned per your tutorial) but just made one big serving. It worked fine but now I’m on the prowl for a wok. I also, obviously, need a molcajete as well. (I also lust after your beautiful mandolin.)

RSS feed for comments on this post

Leave a Comment