Delicious plant-based Pad thai

It’s supposed to be the first day of autumn today. After a couple of weeks of distinctly autumnal weather, today’s glorious sunshine surely signals that summer has just a bit more to give. That’s good news as I’m defiantly not ready for the colder temperatures and early evenings just yet.

I’ve had a real hankering for pad thai recently, a dish that reminds me of hot holidays and sultry evenings out during our time in India. I know it’s not an Indian dish, but during that time I seemed to have it on a regular basis, giving it a particularly warm place in my memory!

The flavours in Pad Thai traditionally come from fish sauce and tamarind. To make it fully plant-based and super tasty, I prefer a peanut-based sauce. And I use a mix of tamari and lime juice rather than tamarind for the deeper flavour, just because they are more common stables in my kitchen. Blitzing the sauce all together  takes seconds and by using brown rice noodles that take only a couple of minutes to soften this really is a rapidly assembled dish that doesn’t miss out on those distinctly Asian flavours. I guess this sauce is more like Gado Gado and tastes wonderful with simple steamed veggies and rice.

Peanut butter supplies a good helping of fats in this dish. Sources of whole fats are a key feature of a whole-food plant-based way of eating – as long as the peanut butter in your jar is 100%. To make it cheap, most brands of peanut butter include extra refined oils, salt and often sugar. None of these are needed and turns this simple nut butter (even though it’s not a nut!) from health food to junk food in one foul swoop.

So what’s the solution? The easiest is to buy only 100% peanut butter. Unfortunately, this can be more expensive, although some home-brand supermarket versions are now available at a good price. The other solution is to make your own – it’s not that difficult and once you’ve made it once, you’re suddenly much more mindful about how many peanuts are needed to make just a small amount of peanut butter. I’ll do another blog post soon showing you how. There is something rather wonderfully satisfying about making your own; I’ve found I eat less now I’ve seen just how many peanuts are in one spoonful of peanut butter.

As soon as anything is ground down and processed, it’s difficult to calculate how much you are actually eating. Even eating a handful of shelled peanuts means you are probably consuming more than you would if you were shelling them yourself. Anything that Mother Nature has wrapped up in packaging should be eaten with more care. After all, if you are sitting eating nuts that have to be shelled, you can’t eat palmfuls at a time and you reach satiation point way before the packet has gone, unlike shelled (and often salted) nuts that are just so easy to wolf down.

If you cannot tolerate peanuts, then almond butter will work but the underlying flavour will be slightly different. And if you’re completely nut-free, try some sunflower seed butter instead. Again, a slightly different flavour but worth experimenting with.

Back to the Pad Thai. Apart from the yummy sauce, it’s the textures that tick my boxes, with lightly stir-fried broccoli or beans and lovely fresh crunchy bean sprouts mixed with sweet red pepper. It’s a definite rainbow in a dish. Make sure the tofu you use is extra firm otherwise it will just crumble in the pan rather than brown. Smoked works as well as plain, if you fancy something different, or leave it out all together if you just fancy the veg.

Of course, this dish can be made any time of the year, not just summer. In fact, it’s the perfect bit of warming sunshine on a cold winters day! Do let me know if you make it – and if the sun shines for you too!

Plant-based pad thai (serves 2)
2 nests of brown rice noodles
1 red pepper, finely sliced
3 spring onions, finely sliced
3-4 spears broccoli with stems, sliced
handful of green beans, sliced
100g bean sprouts
100g extra firm tofu cut into small chunks
handful of chopped fresh coriander
handful of chopped peanuts
chopped fresh red chilli (optional)
For the sauce:
1 clove of garlic
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1 tablespoon maple syrup
juice of 2 limes
4-5 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce

Place all the sauce ingredients into a small blender bowl and whizz until thick and well-combined. If it’s too thick, add water to loosen. Place the rice noodles in a bowl of boiling water for a few minutes until soft. Drain.

Heat a little water in a non-stick frying pan and fry the tofu until it starts to become lightly browned. Tip into a bowl, then add a little more water and stir fry all the vegetables except the beansprouts for a few minutes until they start to soften but remain crunchy.  Return the tofu to the pan along with the beansprouts and noodles, mix together well then pour over the sauce. Cook on a low heat for 3-4 minutes.

Serve in large bowls and garnish with fresh coriander, peanuts and red chilli if using. Eat straight away.

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