Tips for Cooking Authentic (but Vegan :) Pad Thai

Pad thai is hands down one of the most widely loved Thai dishes. When I signed up for a class called “Cooking with Mon” in Koh Lanta Southern Thailand in 2023, my mission was to figure out how to make incredible pad thai for the rest of my life. And I did!

Here are some of the secrets for making authentic pad thai:

  1. Sweet pickled daikon radish is one of the main ingredients that makes pad thai taste so damn good. It is different than the salty pickled raddish used in Chinese cooking. The Thai version has food coloring to make it orange, so I am experimenting with recipes to make my own sweet pickled daikon for Pad Thai. I’ll use this pickling process to start. Chop the sweet pickled daikon into small pieces before throwing it in.
  2. Soak the noodles for 10 minutes before cooking in the walk with other ingredients instead of boiling the noodles separate
  3. Cooking pad thai quickly and in small portions makes it amazingly good
  4. For vegan pad thai, use salt instead of soy sauce. Normally pad thai sauce is made with fish sauce.
  5. No need to add rice vinegar. The tamarind juice is sour along with the lime you squeeze on top right before eating.
  6. If you use tamarind paste, dilute it until it’s almost like juice. If you add water to actual tamarind fruit (they sell it in little bricks of just the flesh), strain out the little pieces of hard skin and/or seeds that are sometimes mixed in with the sticky flesh. Use a lot of tamarind!
  7. Little purple shallots make the dish more authentic than using big purple or white onions. Big onions are more sweet. Little purple shallots have a different flavor.
  8. Coconut and/or palm sugar are more delicious and fun to cook with than white sugar. I found this delectable cane and coconut sugar mixture in Thailand that tastes as good as maple sugar. It does have a couple weird ingredients though…

Along with a fist full of pad thai noodles, this is the amount of ingredients used to make one great size plate of pad thai:

You can take Mon’s cooking class in person or online to get his recipes!

Some more of Chef Mon’s secrets:

  • To make gluten-free vegan crispy noodles to top off a dish like Kao Soi, you can deep fry dry pad thai noodles
  • To make shallot skins and other compost stop sticking to the compost collection bowl, add a little water in the bowl first
  • When cooking with spicy chili peppers, you can use both dry chilies and fresh chilies. Fresh chilies have immediate spiciness, and dry chillies take a little time to burst into heat in your mouth. It’s fun to have both!
  • Do not put soy sauce in vegan som tom (papaya salad). Use salt instead. And try adding a little tamarind juice in your som tom too! Ok ok. I had amazing som tom at a restaurant that put “saw(t) tooah loo-ahng” in it (sauce yellow bean), so this is not a hard and fast rule.
  • Instead of putting noodles into a curry like Khao Soi, pour the broth over the noodles just before serving.
  • Many curry pastes use coriander root. If you can’t find coriander root, you can use coriander stems.
  • A key ingredient in tom ka is galangal. Ginger does not replace it. If you don’t have galangal, don’t make tom ka.
  • Tom ka usually includes white sugar rather than palm sugar. The sweetness of white sugar comes faster.
  • Galangal should be cut into pieces that are big enough to find easily so you don’t accidentally eat it.
  • Kaffir lime leaves should either be shredded super fine or whole or snapped in half. You do not want medium size pieces of kaffir lime leaves in your curry, etc. Same with lemon grass.
  • Red curry paste gets it’s red color from larger mild red peppers as well as red chilies. For the larger mild red peppers, remove the seeds and soak the skins for about 4 hours in cold or room temperature water. If you put them in hot water for 10 minutes instead, the red color will not be as bright.
  • Rice paper wrappers can be used instead of wheat wrappers and egg in order to make vegan gluten-free spring rolls. Put the rice paper in room temperature water very briefly. Just get the entire sheet wet and take it out of the water, add the filling, and roll it quickly. The rice paper can stick to the roof of your mouth a bit especially as the rolls cool off more, so we’re working on that part. Try freezing some unfried rolls too for another time. You can also make french fries in the oil after frying the spring rolls. A key ingredient in spring roll filling is black pepper.