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 ½ 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.
Vegan Pad Thai Sauce (4 Ingredients)
- 3 tablespoons tamarind concentrate (paste) (see note 1)
- 3 tablespoons tamari (or liquid aminos)
- 2 tablespoons coconut sugar (or dark brown sugar)
- 2 teaspoons Sriracha
- Make sauce: In a small bowl, whisk together tamarind paste, tamari, sugar, and Sriracha together until smooth. Use immediately or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate.
- Tamarind Concentrate: Tamarind Concentrate is usually sold in plastic or glass jars with a screw top lid. You can find tamarind concentrate in Asian markets or in well-stocked grocery stores (usually near the Southeast Asian or Latin American ingredients). Alternatively, you can also use Tamarind Pulp, but first you'll need to turn it into paste before using in this recipe. To convert Tamarind Pulp into Tamarind Paste: Add equal parts tamarind pulp and hot water to a small bowl, soak until softened (about 15 minutes), stir vigorously to mix, pour contents into a sieve, then use a spoon to mash the pulp through the sieve. For this recipe, you'll want the smooth pulp that passes through the sieve (discard the fibers and seeds in the sieve). Replace tamarind concentrate with an equal amount of tamarind paste.
- Yield: One batch (1x) makes about ½ cup. Nutritional estimate assumes 2 tablespoons of sauce per serving.