4-Ingredient Vegan Pad Thai Sauce
Homemade Pad Thai is easier than you think! This Vegan Pad Thai Sauce requires only four ingredients - and it comes together in minutes. Perfectly balanced: salty, sweet, sour and spicy. An ideal replacement for traditional fish-based sauces! Vegan & Gluten Free. <jump to recipe>
When travelling through Southeast Asia after university, I literally ate my way through Thailand. From noodles, to curries, to mango rice puddings. YUM. And obviously, Pad Thai was heavy in the rotation. Like many Thai dishes, Pad Thai features a tried and true combination of salty, sweet, sour and spicy flavors.
Back at home, it might seem tempting to dial up your neighborhood takeout spot when your Pad Thai craving hits. But when the noodles arrive lukewarm (at best), in a red-ish sauce (thanks to Ketchup...) and stuck together in a big blob, you know it’s not going to be quite as satisfying as you imagined. There’s a better way; and thankfully making your own Pad Thai at home is not nearly as hard as it seems!
The sauce is perhaps the most important component of the dish. It adds most of the flavor, and since the sauce is hugging every noodle and veggie you add in...you want it to be just right. The good news is that once you’ve nailed the sauce, you can be on your way to noodle dinner dreams in 15 minutes. Traditionally, Pad Thai sauces rely on fish sauce for both the salt and umami flavor. I was determined to find a way to make it completely vegan (and vegetarian), and it turns out you can. All it takes are four ingredients - and when combined together, it’s a total flavor bomb. The ingredients are simple: tamari (for the salty), coconut sugar (for the sweet), tamarind (for the sour) and Sriracha (for the spicy).
Tamarind is the key to any good Pad Thai sauce. Tamarind trees grow a pod-like fruit; and the fruit’s tart flavor and slight stickiness make it surprisingly hard to replicate. I’ve read about hacks to substituting tamarind, but honestly, I haven’t yet met a tamarind-free version of Pad Thai that I’ve truly loved. So I highly recommend you hop on over to an Asian grocery store and pick some up for yourself. It costs us $2.50 for a big container that lasts us months. For this recipe, I used tamarind paste, which comes as a thick, spoonable, sauce-like consistency. It’s usually packaged in small glass jars or larger screw-top containers like the one pictured. Look for brands without preservatives or added sugar.
If you have trouble finding tamarind paste, then tamarind pulp is your next best option. It’s sold in condensed blocks and wrapped in plastic. While I’ve yet needed to convert tamarind pulp into paste myself, here are two good resources on how you could (see here and here). This is key to removing the thick fibers from the pulp; and rehydrating the mixture so it’s closer to the paste found in stores. If you try this method, please let me know how it goes!
Once you’ve whipped up the Vegan Pad Thai Sauce, use it in your favorite recipe. We find that 1/2 cup of sauce is the amount we usually need, so that’s what’s reflected in the recipe below. If you need more, simply scale up. We usually double or triple the recipe to have extras bottled up in the fridge. Also, if you’re looking for a healthier switch-up on rice noodles, use this sauce in our Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai recipe.
4-INGREDIENT VEGAN PAD THAI SAUCE
MAKES 1/2 CUP SAUCE (VEGAN, GLUTEN FREE)
- 3 tablespoons tamarind paste (unsweetened)*
- 3 tablespoons tamari (or liquid aminos)**
- 2 tablespoons coconut sugar
- 2 teaspoons Sriracha
- In a bowl, stir tamarind paste, tamari, coconut sugar and Sriracha together until smooth.
- Use immediately in your favorite pad thai recipe, or transfer to a bottle and store in the fridge.
-*Tamarind Paste is usually sold in bottles/jars, and can be found in Chinese/Asian/Indian grocery stores. Look for brands without added sugar or preservatives. This recipe was developed using spoonable tamarind paste from a jar. If you can only track down “Tamarind Pulp”, then you may be able to convert it to “paste”. See details in post for reference.
-**Could also be substituted for soy sauce. The saltiness of soy sauce varies depending on brand/type, so taste and adjust as needed.