Now if you think that I tell you a story about an adventurous trip to Thailand after I graduated from university. Where I drove with a small scooter through the hilly jungle landscape of the north, island hopped my way around in the south and visited way to many temples in Bangkok. Then you are wrong. Because I reserve this story for another time. Today I tell you how I fell in love with Thai food. And this didn’t happen in Thailand. Well, it kind of did. Because when I went to Thailand for the first time, I ate myself into a daily food coma with sticky rice and mango. I also had the occasional pad thai and though I liked it, it wasn’t until I moved to Hong Kong a few years later that I actually fell in love with Thai food.
Hong Kong boasts one of the highest per-capita concentrations of restaurants in the world. And Hong Kong also has some of the best restaurants in the world. I’m not talking about those Michelin star restaurants or highly awarded ones. They do exist and they are worth visiting too. But what I mean are the places that sell cheap(-ish) but high quality food, are authentic and make you want to come back over and over again. Luckily we had a few of those close to our flat in Hong Kong. One was a Thai restaurant owned by a Thai lady and her husband. The food was real, delicious and freshly made.
I wouldn’t be able to count how many times we visited out favorite Thai restaurant in Hong Kong but it was enough to fall in love with the food, its flavours and immense deliciousness. Though I’m a big fan of Thai curry and Thai salads once every now and then I would order a huge bowl of Pad Thai. On those days I was usually in need of a big portion of comfort. There is just something about Pad Thai that is so soothing and comforting. Just like a warm lentil soup on a cold day or freshly baked cinnamon buns in the early morning hours. The blend of sweet, salty, spicy and sour flavours combined with crunchy veggies and chewy noodles just speaks for itself.
Usually two of the most important flavours are fish sauce and tamarind sauce. I heard that you can made vegan fish sauce yourself but if you don’t have the time or patience, substituting it with tamari oder soy sauce is fine too. Tamarind paste is quite essential in a good pad thai as it provides for the sweet sour distinctive flavour. But you might be as unlucky as I am and live in a place where it’s not easy or not possible at all to get. There are a few substitutes for tamarind paste listed here or in my recipe that I tried, tested and liked. Either way, this Vegan Pad Thai with Baked Tofu is seriously delicious and comforting.
Vegetable Pad Thai with Baked Tofu
- 200 grams rice noodles
- 1 red chilli, thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 spring onions, thinly sliced
- 1 medium zucchini, spiralized or finely sliced
- 2 carrots, spiralized or finely sliced
- 1 red pepper, thinly sliced
- 2-3 tbsp oil for cooking
- 1 block / 150 grams tofu, cubed
- 2 tbsp lemon juice (1/2 lemon)
- 1 tbsp sesame (or any other ) oil
- 2 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
- 3 tbsp maple syrup
- ¼ cup /50 ml tamarind paste or substitute with 1 tbsp maple syrup and juice of 1 lime
- 1 tbsp lime juice (approx. ½ lime)
- 1.5 tbsp vegan fish sauce or substitute with 1.5 tbsp tamari
- 2x2 tbsp chopped peanuts
- handful / ½ - 1 cup sprouts
- 1-2 limes, quartered
- optional: extra chilli flakes
- Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F
- Combine lemon juice and oil, mix well together, add tofu and gently toss the cubes until coated
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, arrange tofu on the sheet, bake for about 30 min or until slightly crispy and brown and toss every 10 min.
- Soak rice noodles in lukewarm water for 10-15 min
- Meanwhile, make the sauce by combining all ingredients in a small bowl and set aside
- Lightly steam the carrots, zucchini and red pepper or quickly stir fry in pan until soft but still a little crunchy
- Drain noodles and heat 1 tbsp of oil in a pan over high heat, add the garlic, onion and chilli and stir fry for 1-2 minutes or until onions are soft
- Add the noodles, pour in the sauce, toss to coat the noodles and cook until the noodles are al dente
- Add the zucchini, carrots and red pepper and toss to mix (you can also already add the sprouts and peanuts)
- Divide among 2-3 plates, top with baked tofu and garnish with sprouts, peanuts and chilli flakes