Learning to be proud of my half Chinese, half French heritage is something that I’ve honestly had to grow into over time. Growing up, it wasn’t something I was amped about. Half?? Why couldn’t I be a whole of something?! Back then, it meant feeling like I never fully belonged to either side. It meant the occasional double-take when it was just my brother and I hanging out with my (very) Caucasian-looking dad. And it meant countless questions about my ethnicity - from strangers - who often couldn’t help themselves but ask: “what are you?”. I know they were just genuinely curious, but as a sensitive kid, it made me feel a bit like a weirdo.
At home, the cultural blurriness was a blessing in disguise. Especially in the kitchen. Sure, I ate my fair share of “normal” stuff, like kid-friendly peanut butter sandwiches, chicken noodle soup and boxed mac and cheese. But then again, I also thought stirfried pasta was a thing. And thank goodness my Asian mum insisted on cooking pasta in her beloved wok. Because wok-fried pasta is bomb.
I’m tapping into that half-Asian side with today’s recipe. It’s based off a classic pad thai, which was a dish I first learned to cook while traveling in Thailand. Although, I know you’re not here to just read about another standard pad thai recipe, so I made some “new school” modifications. The big difference here is a serious switch-up when it comes to the noodles. Spaghetti squash anyone? Oh and we’re pressing pause on the meat / eggs (yup, this one’s vegan).
I’m assuming most of you already know all about the wonders of spaghetti squash. Bake it in the oven - and then with the simple scrape of a fork, you have “noodles”. It’s kinda like... magic! And besides the fun scooping part, they’re also delicious, healthy and easy to prepare. In the spirit of full transparency, I’m not going to try and convince you that spaghetti squash noodles are exactly like the real thing. They’re not. That said, spaghetti squash is a great substitute for noodles when you want to be a little healthier and the sauce is the real star of the show.
While most people cut their spaghetti squash lengthwise, I'm here to convince you not to. The strands/fibers inside the spaghetti squash actually run horizontally. So, if you cut your spaghetti squash the same direction, then you'll end up with longer noodles. Isn't that what we all want?! Cutting spaghetti squash lengthwise also requires two additional cuts: slicing off the hard stem, and cutting off the bottom of the squash. The horizontal approach of cutting through the wide middle of the squash allows you to skip this. Which is so much nicer, given how hard it is to cut squash in the first place. Give it a try. I promise you won't go back!
As the squash roasts, you'll bake the tofu at the same time. Baking tofu in the oven achieves a crispy exterior, without oil. Since the spaghetti squash noodles will take a quick visit to the pan (after baking), it's important not to overcook them in the oven. Keeping the noodles slightly el dente will make for the best texture in the end. Sauce-wise, we have an awesome 4-Ingredient Vegan Pad Thai Sauce, which makes the perfect quantity for this recipe. Otherwise, substitute store-bought sauce. Top with chopped peanuts, cilantro and fresh lime slices - and serve warm.
Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai
- 3 lb spaghetti squash
- 8 oz extra firm tofu, cubed (½-inch)
- 3 tablespoons grapeseed oil, divided (or other neutral oil)
- ½ cup Vegan Pad Thai Sauce, divided (one batch)
- 4 shallots, thinly sliced (or 1 cup thinly sliced red onion)
- 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 2 carrots, cut into matchsticks
- 1 cup packed spinach
- 4 scallions/green onions, cut into 3-inch lengths
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1½ cups bean sprouts (rinsed well and drained)
- Chopped peanuts (optional)
- Chopped cilantro (optional)
- Sriracha (optional)
- Lime wedges (optional)
- Preheat: Put the racks in the upper- and lower-thirds of the oven; preheat to 425°F (220°C).
- Bake squash: Cut the spaghetti squash in half crosswise/horizontally (not lengthwise, see note 1). Scoop out and discard seeds. Place the squash, cut side down on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake on the upper rack until fork tender, about 30 minutes.
- Bake tofu: Meanwhile, scatter tofu on a second parchment lined baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the grapeseed oil. Toss to coat. Bake on the bottom rack until golden brown, about 15 minutes.
- Make sauce: Meanwhile, make one batch of Vegan Pad Thai Sauce.
- Scoop squash: Use a fork to gently scoop out the insides of the squash. Discard the skin.
- Stir fry veggies (see note 2): Heat 1 tablespoon of the grapeseed oil in a wok or 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add shallots. Sauté until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add carrots and bell pepper, saute until tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Add spinach, green onion, garlic, and baked tofu. Sauté until garlic is fragrant and spinach has begun to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of the pad thai sauce. Toss to coat, then transfer everything to a bowl.
- Stir fry squash: Reheat wok over medium-high heat and add remaining 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil. When the oil is shimmering, add have the squash "noodles". Cook for 1 minute. Add the remaining noodles, toss to mix. Drizzle about half of the remaining pad thai sauce over the noodles, toss to coat.
- Combine: Add the stir fried veggies, bean sprouts, and the remaining pad thai sauce. Toss to mix. Garnish with peanuts, cilantro, lime wedges, and Sriracha (optional).
- How to cut spaghetti squash: For this recipe, cut the spaghetti squash horizontally, through the short side of the squash....not lengthwise (through the stem). While people often cut spaghetti squash lengthwise, we find that a horizontal cut actually yields longer noodle strands.
- Technique tip: Stir frying happens fast, so make sure you have all your ingredients prepped and ready to go before you start cooking.