I was a preteen, on a weekend trip with my parents and my (then-) little brother in Palm Springs. We used to go to that idyllic desert town almost every year in November to recharge. We would hike in the canyons during the day, then unwind in the hot spring spas back at the hotel in the evening. The fall breeze was still warm and a little dry; it felt just right.
On one such trip, after our day hike, we randomly decided to have dinner at a Thai restaurant downtown (unfortunately, it is no longer there). Not knowing any better, I was expecting it to be just like Chinese food. We sat down, and my mom told the waiter that we had never tried Thai food. The nice young man suggested the pad Thai noodles and the chicken red curry, so that’s what we ordered.
They did not taste like Chinese food, but they were oh-so-yummy! The red curry had that creamy, coconut flavor which was unlike the Indian curries I had tried up to that point. The pad Thai had a hint of char-grilled flavor with a little sweetness; totally different from the chow mein noodles I was so familiar with. We made it a point to find a good Thai restaurant back at home and, from then on, we (almost) always ordered pad Thai and red curry!
Traditional pad Thai is made with scrambled eggs and contains fish sauce, so I no longer order it at non-veg restaurants. Luckily, this vegan version is really easy to make!
The sauce in this vegan Pad Thai is amazing – a perfect balance of sweet, sour, savory, and creamy.
You can adapt the recipe to other fresh or frozen vegetables; I just happened to have frozen broccoli handy and it worked well.
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*To press tofu: Wrap tofu in paper towels and place on a plate. Place a cast iron pan, or a cutting board with several heavy objects stacked on top, on top of the wrapped tofu. Let sit at least 10 minutes to press out the excess water. Recipe adapted from Vegan Insanity
For the sauce:
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 cup reduced-sodium tamari or soy sauce
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/4 cup almond butter or peanut butter
1/2 cup coconut sugar
2 dates, pitted (or substitute extra 1 Tbsp. coconut sugar)
For the main dish:
1 package (14 oz.) stir-fry rice noodles
1 package (14 oz.) extra-firm tofu, drained and pressed*
Combine sauce ingredients in blender; blend on medium-high until sauce is smooth. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Remove from heat, add the noodles, and let soak for 8-10 minutes until softened but not mushy (al dente). Drain and rinse with cold water.
Meanwhile, slice the tofu into 1/2-inch cubes. Heat 1 Tbsp. cooking oil in a wok or large skillet over medium heat. Add half of the tofu cubes. Stir and toss for 3 minutes or until all sides are golden brown, adding more oil if needed. Add 1 tsp. sesame oil; toss to coat. Remove tofu to a bowl, and repeat with other half of cubes; set aside.
Remove the wok from the heat. Carefully pour in 1/4 cup of water, then add the frozen broccoli florets. Return to heat, bring to boil. Cover, reduce heat, and let steam for 4-5 minutes until warm. Remove to a bowl; set aside.
Allow any leftover water to evaporate from wok, then heat 1 Tbsp. cooking oil over medium-low. Add the onion, stir 1 minute. Add garlic, stir another 30 seconds until fragrant.
Add the browned tofu cubes and noodles; use 2 wooden spoons to stir carefully and get the noodles slightly brown. Add the steamed broccoli, pour in the sauce, and toss gently to coat. Add a few tablespoons of water to the blender, shake gently to get more of the sauce, and pour into wok.
Serve pad thai with optional garnishes, as desired.
Nutrition information below is for 1/8 vegan pad thai dish. Does not include optional garnishes.