This vegan pad thai recipe makes a satisfying, flavorful weeknight dinner. It's quick and easy, with zesty homemade vegan pad thai sauce, and it's even better as leftovers the next day.
Fun fact: over the years, our family has hosted a total of eight exchange students from around the world. Each of them lived with us for a full school year (about 10 months). Needless to say, each student became part of our family. We're so glad we've kept in touch over the years. 3 of them even made it to my wedding! For the delicious cocktails we enjoyed together at that celebration, see here.
I have "sisters" in Finland (2), Switzerland, Spain, Germany, Chile, Latvia, and yep, you guessed it, Thailand! Nicky, our second exchange student, stayed with us from 2002-2003. Although she didn't enjoy cooking all that much, she did introduce us to the diverse and rich flavors of her home country. We've been making versions of this vegan Pad Thai recipe ever since she lived with us.
The Pad Thai Recipe for Vegans and Non-Vegans
Our vegan version of the classic Thai dish strays a bit from Nicky's more traditional recipe. Classic pad Thai recipes call for quite a few animal products. First of all, pad thai sauce usually includes fish sauce. There's also often egg, and another protein like chicken and shrimp. Sometimes both!
We like to please everyone at our table, vegan and non-vegan. So we make a big batch of pad thai. Then, we divide the batch in half and add scrambled eggs and shredded chicken or shrimp to one half (for the guys). This version is for us, and we wouldn't change anything!
How to Make Vegan Pad Thai
Every traditional pad thai recipe starts with noodles. Rice noodles happen to be naturally gluten-free, which makes pad thai an excellent option if you're dining out with someone who avoids gluten. In fact, Thai restaurants often have options for most dietary preferences and allergies. The one thing to ask is that the soy sauce is gluten free.
For pad thai, we like rice noodles that are a medium thickness. They're not vermicelli, which are tiny, slippery and great for soups. And they're more narrow than wide, flat noodles usually used for dishes like Pad See Ew.
You can probably find Thai Kitchen brand noodles at your local grocery store. We used the "Gluten Free Stir Fry Rice Noodles." Cooking rice noodles is kind of funny. Instead of actually cooking them, you'll heat some water and give the noodles a nice bath until they're soft and pliable. They don't need boiling water like Italian pasta. They can get overcooked and gummy though, so don't leave them soaking for too long. As soon as they're al dente, drain and run them under cool water in the sink.
So while your noodles are lounging in their hot tub, start building the flavor for your vegan pad thai.
Build your Pad Thai Base
- Green onion and garlic offer the classic flavor base that's loved from Bangkok to Boston.
- We add plenty of vegetables to our vegan pad thai, starting with fresh spinach. You can pack a ton of fresh leaves into this dish, they'll cook down to nearly nothing!
- Sliced mushrooms add delicous earthy flavor. With plenty of mushrooms, no one will be missing the meat in this vegan pad thai.
- Shredded carrots add crunch and bright orange color.
- We pack this plant based pad thai full of protein with tofu. Traditional pad thai often also includes tofu, so we're still on track with the classic Thai flavors here. If you like firmer tofu, you can press it between two plates lined with paper towels for 30 minutes or so before cooking.
How to make Vegan Pad Thai Sauce
In addition to the fresh vegetables and tofu, we pack a ton of flavor into our meat-free pad thai with homemade pad thai sauce.
Vegan pad thai sauce ingredients:
- The base of this vegan pad thai sauce, like many Asian dishes, is soy sauce. For gluten free, look for tamari.
- Peanut butter is our secret pad thai sauce ingredient. It adds a whole new layer of creaminess to this recipe. While it might not be the most traditional ingredient, we love the extra peanutty flavor and protein it provides.
- Spice comes from crushed red pepper flakes and as much sriracha as you like. That part is totally up to you. We like to put just a dash in at first and bring the bottle to the table so everyone can spice up their own plates.
- Every good Thai dish gets a hit of sweetness. So much of Thai cuisine is sweet, tangy and salty. So we add 2 teaspoons of sugar to bring this vegan pad thai to life.
- And that tang? Comes from freshly squeezed lime juice.
After you've cooked your noodles and veggies and prepped your plant based pad thai sauce, mix everything together. Make sure to toss well so all those noodles get coated.
And finally, top off your delicous bowls with freshly chopped chives, cilantro and basil. Add some crunchy peanuts and beansprouts, and you have a delicous and warming bowl of vegan pad thai in under an hour.Print
This vegan pad thai recipe is a satisfying, flavorful dinner for any time of year, but we especially love making a big batch on a cold winter night! It's quick and east, and it's even better as leftovers the next day.
- 1 15 oz package pad thai rice noodles
- 4 tbsp vegetable or sesame oil
- 1 cup diced green onion
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 4 well packed cups spinach
- 3 cups sliced mushrooms (button or shiitake work fine)
- 1 cup shredded carrot
- 1 12 oz package firm tofu, drained, patted dry and diced
- 1/2 cup low sodium tamari** or soy sauce, divided (plus more as needed for taste)
- 2 tbsp peanut butter
- 3/4 tsp ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 tsp cane sugar
- 1 1/2-2 1/2 tsp sriracha (more if desired)
- 4-5 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1/3 cup chopped chives
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- 1/4 cup chopped basil (Thai basil if you can find)
- 1/2 cup chopped peanuts
- 1/2 cup bean sprouts
- For garnish: cilantro, radish, more peanuts, red pepper flakes
Optional: for non-vegan version, add in 1 lb. shredded chicken breast or 1 lb. cooked shrimp and 3 eggs, scrambled.
- Add rice noodles to a large bowl and cover with very hot water. Let sit until al dente, then drain and rinse in cold water. Set aside.
- Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Add green onion and garlic and sauté, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes.
- Add mushrooms and carrots and continue to cook until vegetables are softened.
- Add tofu, 1/4 cup of low sodium tamari, 2 tblsp lime juice, coriander, red pepper flakes, sugar, sriracha, peanut butter, cilantro and basil. Stir well to combine all ingredients and continue cooking for a few minutes, until tamari reduces. Turn heat to low.
- Add in cooked rice noodles, rest of tamari and lime juice, chopped peanuts, spinach (if using) and bean sprouts. Use tongs to coat noodles well. Let sit for 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until noodles are fully cooked.
- Taste and add more lime and/or tamari if needed. You can also add more sriracha or red pepper flakes if you like it extra spicy.
- Top with more chopped peanuts, cilantro & basil, radish and more sprouts. Enjoy hot (but it's also great straight from the fridge the next day!).
-If we are adding meat or shrimp for the rest of the family, we typically divide all ingredients in half and cook in two smaller pots.
**Make sure you are using low sodium Tamari or soy sauce. If not, use less, taste and adjust.