vegan pad Thai

If you love Thai food but have never tried making it at home, you’ll love how easy and delicious this vegetable pad thai is! It’s a mix of sweet, salty, sour, and spicy flavors, chewy and crunchy textures, and vibrant colors. This recipe is vegan (dairy-free, egg-free), grain-free (gluten-free), and refined sugar-free.

Pad thai is one of the most iconic dishes around the world. It’s the best-known example of Thai cuisine and the ultimate street food in Thailand. 

According to Natty Netsuwan, the term “street food” represents nothing but quality. Food cart cooks are in a very competitive situation, with small space, ingredients, and tools they need to specialize in a dish or two just to stay in business. The best of these cooks have prepared the same dish day after day, year after year, constantly perfecting it.

Different countries have put their own spin on this Thai dish in recent times, but the combination of rice noodles, stir-fried vegetables, and a sweet-salty-tangy pad thai sauce remains relatively consistent worldwide.

While this pad thai recipe is far from truly authentic, it’s bursting with flavor and comes with the most amazing sweet-salty-sour sauce that is so unique to the classic Thai noodle dish.

vegan pad Thai recipe

Tips for Making Vegan Pad Thai

Ingredients

The ingredient list for a traditional pad thai can be quite intimidating. Well, the ingredients for this vegetable-center pad thai are very accessible, at least here in North America, and don’t require a visit to an Asian grocery store.

  • Vegetables: the vegetables traditionally used in pad thai vary between regions in Thailand. I like to use cabbage, bell peppers, carrots, bean sprouts, and green onions, but you could also add zucchini, or bok choy (Chinese cabbage). In addition to vegetables, authentic pad thai also contains rice noodles, but I left them out to make this dish centered around vegetables rather than noodles. When you sauté the shredded cabbage and bean sprouts, you can hardly tell whether it’s a noodle or a vegetable. If you love rice noodles, feel free to use them.
  • Tofu: to make this pad thai vegan-friendly, I used tofu in place of eggs. When you add a pinch of turmeric (for color) and black salt (for flavor), you will be questioning whether you are eating scrambled eggs or scrambled tofu. Really. Pick extra-firm or firm tofu, which holds up to stir-frying. Avoid silken or soft tofu, which falls apart easily. 
  • Pad thai sauce: traditional pad thai sauce includes fish sauce and tamarind. This pad thai sauce doesn’t contain either because fish sauce is not vegan (obviously) and pure tamarind paste can be hard to find. You can find tamarind sauce relatively easily, but not pure tamarind paste, which is just the fruit separated from the pod and seeds of the tamarind tree. To substitute both these ingredients I made my own “fish sauce” and added lime juice (for sour taste) and maple syrup (for sweetness). 

Pad Thai ingredients

Pad Thai Sauce

  • “Fish” sauce: real fish sauce is rich in glutamates that give any food the meaty, savory flavor known as umami. One of the best plant-based sources of glutamates is seaweed, tamari, and miso. However, according to Cook’s Illustrated, these ingredients fail to contribute sufficient depth. Therefore, glutamates need to be paired with flavor-boosting nucleotides found in dried shiitake mushrooms. Combining glutamates with nucleotides provides just the right meaty punch as a 1:1 substitute for fish sauce. If making your own fish sauce seems too time-consuming, you could substitute it with mushroom soy sauce.
  • Lime juice: the flavor of tamarind ranges from sweet and sour to tangy and tart. Lime juice is a great substitute here. In fact, limes are often used as the basis of Thai cooking because they give the sharp sourness and zesty flavor that Thai people so love. 
  • Maple syrup: to balance the salty and sour flavors, pad Thai sauce typically contains palm sugar. You can use any sweetener you like. I prefer maple syrup for its subtle caramel undertones. 
  • Chili pepper flakes (optional): if you like a bit of heat, add in some chili pepper flakes. The Thai use dried chili peppers rather than fresh chili peppers or chili paste.

vegan fish sauce ingredients

How To Make Vegan Pad Thai

This vegan pad thai is ready in just 30 minutes. Since stir-frying is such a fast cooking technique, make sure to have all the ingredients prepped beforehand. Here are the detailed instructions:

  1. Prepare the “fish” sauce. Add the shiitake mushrooms, seaweed, tamari, miso paste, garlic, black peppercorns, and water into a medium saucepan, and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce is reduced, about 30 minutes. The longer you simmer the “fish” sauce, the saltier it will be. The saltiness should be similar to that of tamari.
  2. Prepare the Pad Thai sauce. Add the “fish” sauce, lime juice, maple syrup, and crushed red pepper flakes into a small mixing bowl, and stir to combine. Set aside until ready to use.
  3. Sauté the tofu. Crumble the tofu into a medium mixing bowl. Add the turmeric, season with salt, and stir until well combined. Heat the peanut oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the tofu and sauté until slightly browned, 5-7 minutes.
  4. Sauté the vegetables. Add the cabbage, red pepper, and half of the pad Thai sauce into the pan with the tofu, and sauté until the cabbage begins to soften, 2-3 minutes. Next, add the carrot ribbons and sauté until the carrots begin to soften, 2-3 minutes. Finally, add the bean sprouts, green onions (reserve one green onion for garnish), and the other half of the pad Thai sauce and sauté until warmed through, for about 2 minutes.

how to make vegan fish sauce

stir-fried tofu

How to Serve Vegetable Pad Thai

Garnish the Pad Thai with crushed peanuts and sliced green onions. You can also serve the Pad Thai with lime wedges on the side of the plate. For a classic presentation, add a little extra side of bean sprouts.

How to Store and Reheat Pad Thai

  • Refrigerating: transfer the Pad Thai into an airtight container and refrigerate for 3-4 days. 
  • Freezing: I don’t recommend freezing the assembled dish because the vegetable noodles lose their texture in the freezer. However, you can freeze the Pad Thai sauce in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
  • Reheating: the best way to reheat pad thai is in a sauté pan. Heat a little bit of peanut oil in a large sauté pan. Fry the pad thai until hot, for 2-3 minutes.

easy vegan pad thai

vegan pad Thai

Pad Thai

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Yield: 2
If you love Thai food but have never tried making it at home, you’ll love how easy and delicious this vegetable pad thai is! It’s a mix of sweet, salty, sour, and spicy flavors, chewy and crunchy textures, and vibrant colors. This recipe is vegan (dairy-free, egg-free), grain-free (gluten-free), and refined sugar-free.

Ingredients
 

"Fish" Sauce

  • 5 (5) dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 (0.35 oz) piece (1 (10 g) piece) dried seaweed, **
  • 1 tsp. (5 g) miso paste, ***
  • 2 cloves (2 cloves) garlic
  • 10 (10) black peppercorns
  • 1/3 cup (60 ml) tamari
  • 2 cups (480 ml) water

Pad Thai Sauce

  • 6 Tbsp. (90 ml) "fish" sauce
  • 3 Tbsp. (45 ml) lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp. (30 ml) maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp. (0.9 g) red pepper flakes, (optional)

Tofu

  • 1 Tbsp. (15 ml) peanut oil
  • 1/2 block (12 oz.) (1/2 block (350 g)) extra firm tofu
  • 1/4 tsp. (0.75 g) turmeric
  • pinch (pinch) sea salt or black salt, *

Vegetables

  • 4 cups (400 g) white cabbage, , shredded
  • 1 (1) red bell pepper, , sliced
  • 3-4 (3-4) carrots, , peeled into ribbons
  • 1 cup (104 g) bean sprouts
  • 1 bunch (1 bunch) green onions, , sliced

Toppings (for serving)

  • crushed peanuts
  • lime wedges

Instructions
 

  • Prepare the "fish" sauce. Add the shiitake mushrooms, miso paste, garlic, black peppercorns, tamari, and water into a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce is reduced, about 30 minutes.
  • Prepare the pad thai sauce. Transfer 6 Tbsp./90 ml of the "fish" sauce into a small jar. Add the lime juice, maple syrup, and crushed red pepper flakes, and stir to combine. Set aside until ready to use.
  • Sauté the tofu. Crumble the tofu into a medium mixing bowl. Add the turmeric, season with salt, and stir until well combined. Heat the peanut oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the tofu and sauté until slightly browned, 5-7 minutes.
  • Sauté the vegetables. Add the cabbage, red pepper, and half of the pad Thai sauce into the pan with the tofu, and sauté until the cabbage begins to soften, 2-3 minutes. Next, add the carrot ribbons and sauté until the carrots begin to soften, 2-3 minutes. Finally, add the bean sprouts, green onions (reserve one green onion for garnish), and the other half of the pad Thai sauce and sauté until warmed through, for about 2 minutes.
  • Season. Taste and adjust the flavor as needed, adding more tamari for saltiness, lime juice for acidity, maple syrup for sweetness, and red pepper flakes for heat.
  • Serve. Garnish the pad thai with crushed peanuts and sliced green onions. Serve hot with a wedge of lime on the side of the plate.
  • Store. Leftover pad thai keeps well in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
  • Reheat. Heat a little bit of peanut oil in a large sauté pan. Fry the pad thai until hot, for 2-3 minutes.

Notes

*Black salt (also called kala namak) is a kiln-fired rock salt with a sulfurous, pungent smell reminiscent of eggs.
**I used wakame, which has a subtly sweet but very distinctive flavor. You can substitute the wakame for a different type of dried seaweed, such as arame or hijiki.
***Miso paste is generally made by fermenting soybeans and rice. There are many varieties with different colors and flavors. You can omit the miso in this recipe or substitute it for ½ tsp./2.5 ml tamari.
****Nutrition information is approximate and may contain errors. Please, feel free to make your own calculations.

Nutrition

Serving: 1of 2, Calories: 313kcal, Carbohydrates: 39g, Protein: 17g, Fat: 12g, Fiber: 10g, Sugar: 22g