If you really enjoy Thai food but are a vegetarian or vegan, finding good substitutes can be a bit tricky considering so many recipes call for fish sauce, especially a Thai restaurant favourite — pad thai. This noodle dish is usually cooked with a sauce combining fish sauce and tamarind paste — but is it possible to make a delicious and similar-tasting pad thai sauce without fish sauce? My answer is yes!
Many pad thai recipes without fish sauce tend to simply call for a vegetarian or vegan fish sauce, but these things aren’t usually the easiest to find.
I also was excited by the challenge to recreate the umami flavours that fish sauce possesses in something that was completely plant based.
This was a bit difficult for me, especially since fish sauce is one of my absolute favourite ingredients and I honestly look for an excuse to add it to just about everything — from my tartar sauce to my French onion soup.
However, I was up to the task and have created a delicious vegetarian pad thai recipe that is also super easily made vegan should you wish. And if I don’t say so myself, it doesn’t sacrifice anything in terms of flavour. It’s also super easy to make and comes together really quickly!
How to Make Pad Thai Without Fish Sauce
The first step of this recipe is to make the pad thai sauce. The sauce is super easy to make and comes together in a snap.
All you need to do is, in a small bowl, combine some dark brown sugar, tamarind concentrate, miso paste and soy sauce. Add a bit of water to dilute it and whisk thoroughly to make sure everything is well-combined and the miso paste and sugar particularly are completely dissolved.
The mixture of soy sauce and miso paste actually results in a flavour that is surprisingly similar to fish sauce. The umami and saltiness provided by the soy sauce combined with the funkiness of miso is a match made in heaven if you ask me. It’s the same reason I use it when making olive tapenade without anchovies.
No pad thai sauce tastes quite right without tamarind, in my opinion, so I would highly recommend trying to source it at an Asian supermarket or buy it online here if you can’t find it in your local grocery shop.
Once your sauce is finished, take the time to cook your rice noodles according to your package’s instructions. This varies from brand to brand, so I can’t offer any specific advice here.
Now it’s time to cook your tofu. Use firm tofu here and you should drain it for about an hour or so before cooking. You can do this by lining a plate with a few paper towels and putting something heavy on top of the tofu – I use my cast iron Dutch oven.
Tofu benefits even from a little time being drained, so don’t stress if you forgot to do it beforehand. Just prep all of your other ingredients while your tofu drains – even ten minutes is better than nothing!
Cut the tofu into bite-sized pieces and add them to a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Fry the tofu until it’s lightly golden brown on all sides – this should take about five to ten minutes.
Now, increase the heat to high and add the white parts of some scallions and some sliced garlic. Cook this until it begins to turn golden brown before adding some sliced Thai chilies.
If you’re sensitive to heat, then you can feel free to leave the chilies out.
To the onions and garlic, crack in a couple of eggs and break them up with a spatula until they’re cooked through and well incorporated.
If you’re looking to make a vegan pad thai without any fish sauce, then simply omit the eggs and you will be good to go.
When the eggs are cooked, add your noodles to the skillet along with your tofu. Pour your pad thai sauce over the noodles and toss with tongs until the sauce is absorbed in the noodles.
Then, add some chopped peanuts, mung bean sprouts, cilantro and the green parts of the scallions.
Toss this all to combine and portion out into serving bowls. Then, garnish with some lime wedges and crispy shallots (find out how to make these from scratch in my green bean & mushrooms with crispy shallots recipe!), if desired and serve immediately.
- 1 tablespoon dark soft brown sugar
- 1.5 teaspoons tamarind concentrate
- 1 teaspoon light miso paste
- 45ml (3 tablespoons) soy sauce
- 400g (14oz) firm tofu, drained and cut into bite-sized pieces
- 250g (9oz) rice noodles
- 2 green onions, thinly sliced, whites and greens separated
- 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 2-5 Thai chilis, thinly sliced
- 2 large eggs (optional)
- 100g (3.5 oz) mung bean sprouts
- 50g (2oz) unsalted peanuts, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
- Crispy shallots, optional
- 1 lime, cut into 4 wedges
- In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, tamarind concentrate, miso paste, soy sauce and 60ml (1/4 cup) of water. Whisk until all ingredients are completely incorporated. Set aside for later.
- Cook your rice noodles according to the package's instructions. Set aside for later.
- Over medium-high heat, add 15ml (one tablespoon) of neutral oil to a large nonstick skillet, add the tofu and cook on all sides until lightly golden brown and crisp, about five to ten minutes.
- Increase the heat to high and add a bit more oil if needed to the pan. Once shimmering, add the whites of the green onions and the garlic. Cook until the garlic just begins to turn golden brown, about one minute. Add the chilis and cook for another thirty seconds.
- Crack in the eggs, if using, and break them up with your spatula. Combine them with the onion, garlic and chili and cook until they're completely cooked through, only about thirty seconds to one minute.
- Add the rice noodles and tofu to the pan. Pour over the pad thai sauce and, using tongs, toss until the sauce is mostly absorbed into the noodles and everything is well-combined - about a minute.
- Turn off the heat and add the bean sprouts, peanuts, cilantro and green part of the green onions. Toss to combine.
- Divide into bowls, top with crispy shallots (if desired) and serve with a lime wedge.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 315Total Fat: 15gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 10gCholesterol: 93mgSodium: 785mgCarbohydrates: 30gFiber: 6gSugar: 6gProtein: 21g
Nutritional information is automatically generated and provided as guidance only. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This vegetarian pad thai is quick and easy to make and absolutely delicious. It’s sure to satisfy any craving for those who don’t have a vegetarian option at their local Thai restaurant.
Are you looking to make pad thai without fish sauce? Have any questions about this recipe? Let me know in the comments!