Eating pad thai at a restaurant never seemed like the best choice to me: over-priced, bland, and oily. To me, it should be fresh, slightly spicy, and the perfect balance of sweet, salty, and sour. This can easily be 5 of your 5-a-day too (which you'd never find in a restaurant). This interpretation of the traditional dish makes it vegetarian (no fish sauce/prawn) and more of a healthy version (more vegetables). I think of it as a quick and healthy meal I can literally throw together with random vegetables and noodles lying around my cupboard. I actually forget how good this is to make at home because it's so easy and simple. If I have a bit of extra time, I make crispy teriyaki tofu instead of adding it plain, but this recipe is delicious as is.
Tamarind paste is a sweet and sour paste used traditionally in pad thai. Ordinarily, a recipe will call for this paste, which can be tricky and expensive to find. I use dates because I always have them lying around, can be easily found in most supermarkets, and even bought zero-waste too in some places. I am lucky to have a blender for the homemade sauce, but I have noted some alternative methods to getting around it if you don't have a hand blender or something like that.
Serves 2 | Prep time: 15 mins | Cook time: 15 mins | £2.30 per serving
For the sauce:
4 large dates, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes (substitute: tamarind paste or brown sugar)
1 thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and diced
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and diced
2 tbsp gluten free tamari (or soy sauce) or to your taste
Red chilli, to taste (I used 1/4 of a chilli) or sriracha
Juice of 1 lime
Lime zest, about half of the lime (optional)
- The amount of water is just to facilitate blending, it will depend on how large your blender is. If you don't have a blender, chop the soaked dates and mash them with a fork to form a paste before adding the other ingredients, or simply use brown sugar in a pinch. If you're not using a blender be sure to finely chop the other ingredients.
1 brown onion, thickly sliced
Vegetables of choice (e.g. Chinese cabbage, carrot, red pepper, pak choi, spring onion, broccoli, beansprouts)
Frozen edamame beans (however much you like)
Firm tofu, cubed (Cauldron brand tofu can be found in most refrigerated vegetarian sections)
1 tsp sesame oil (optional)
Instant rice noodles, flat 3-5mm thick ones (2 baskets)
Toasted sesame seeds
Roasted peanuts or cashews, chopped
1. Start with the sauce by combining all the ingredients ideally in a blender until a smooth paste or with an immersion (stick) blender in a narrow container. Remember to taste as you go to adjust the flavour to your liking. Set the sauce aside.
2. Get a bowl or big pot ready with your noodles so they can quickly be covered with boiling water and cooked while you're doing other things. I used ones that take 3 mins to cook. If it's too stressful to multitask, simply cook in hot water first, rinse them under cold water, and toss gently in some oil to stop them sticking together.
3. Heat a large wok or pan over a high heat. Non-stick is great here as you want to keep the pan quite hot throughout which means things are prone to sticking.
4. Fry the onions until slightly browned.
5. Turn the heat down and carefully add the sauce (if your pan is too hot it will sputter everywhere). It needs to be cooked down because of all the raw garlic and ginger, but don't let all the sauce evaporate!
6. Add the vegetables and tofu to the pan and keep everything moving, covering each ingredient with the sauce.
Tip: try to add the vegetables in order of cooking time, for example, first broccoli, cabbage, carrot and then quicker cooking ones last (e.g. beansprouts, pak choi, red pepper, edamame).
7. Meanwhile, cook the noodles by following the package instructions.
8. When the vegetables are cooked, turn the heat off. Add the noodles and the sesame oil (if using) to the pan, using tongs to incorporate the noodles into the sauce, vegetables, and beans.
9. Garnish as you wish and serve.