This is one of my favorite fast and healthy plant-based dinners. The addition of tons of fresh vegetables, tofu, and egg combined with whole grain brown rice noodles make this dish a nutrient powerhouse. It’s also a perfectly balanced one-pot meal that’s much healthier than any version you’d get in a restaurant. The best part is it still packs in all the savory, delicious flavor you get from a traditional pad Thai.
The homemade sauce in this pad Thai has far less sugar and salt than you’d get in a traditional sauce and the flavors pair well with the fresh herbs like basil and cilantro. Something else that makes this dish one of my favorites is its versatility. You don’t have to use the exact vegetables and herbs listed here – feel free to throw in whatever you have on hand! Just make sure to cut your vegetables into similarly sized, small pieces so they cook evenly.
This recipe takes less than 15 minutes to cook, so prep all your vegetables and mix up the sauce ahead of time so everything will finish at the same time. Cooking the vegetables quickly over high heat helps them retain a fresh crunch and bright color (and maximizes the retention of cancer-fighting nutrients).
If you have a spiralizer, use it to get your zucchini into noodle-like strips. If you don’t – you can easily slice the zucchini to mimic a spiralizer by slicing the zucchini into long, thin strips (about the size of a noodle). Cutting the zucchini this way helps sneak more vegetables into the dish and increase the nutrient content (while reducing the calories).
Once all the vegetables are prepped and you’ve mixed up the sauce, saute the tofu to give it a nice golden-brown color. I prefer to use extra firm tofu because it helps prevent the tofu from crumbling when it cooks. You can also improve the texture/firmness of tofu by draining it and setting the block between two plates with a weight on top (e.g. a mug) for about 10 minutes prior to cooking to let some of the extra water soak out.
Although soy has seen some controversy regarding its health benefits, particularly related to cancer, research shows this is not true. On the contrary, soy has many health benefits, including being a rich source of protein and nutrients such as calcium and cancer-protective phytochemicals.
Once the tofu is golden brown, push it to the side of the skillet and lightly scramble your eggs until they are just cooked through. Set the tofu and egg aside on a plate until a later step.
Cook your noodles according to the package instructions. Most rice noodles cook just by soaking in hot water. Brown rice noodles have more fiber and nutrients than regular rice noodles, but regular will work just fine if you can’t find the whole grain version in your grocery store.
Add the remaining oil your pan over medium-high heat. Cooking the garlic and onions first helps bring out a little extra flavor. If you like spice, add a pinch of red pepper flakes at the same time you add the garlic and onions.
Note on Cooking Oils:
Olive oil is one of the healthiest options to cook with due to its abundance of nutrients and heart-healthy fats. Peanut or sesame oil all are also healthy options that add nice flavor and pairs well with Asian cuisine.
Saute the rest of your vegetables until they are just fork-tender and still bright in color. Finally, add the noodles, sauce and tofu/egg mixture to the pan. Gently mix everything together so the flavors combine and the noodles can soak up the sauce. Add most of the herbs (reserve a handful for garnish).
Serve with a topping of fresh herbs, the remaining bean sprouts, lime wedges and a sprinkle of peanuts.
Portion Control Tip:
This dish is so good, it’s easy to gobble up a large portion. Filling up a small bowl entirely instead of partially filling a large bowl helps you mentally feel as though you are getting more food – even if technically you serve the same amount. This technique has been shown to increase your satisfaction with the meal without even intentionally eating less! You can still always go back for seconds if you decide to.
This dish also makes for great leftovers, so it also works well for individuals or a group of two.
Subs and Dietary Adjustments:
Gluten-free: use tamari instead of soy sauce (check fish sauce)
Vegan: omit the egg and use only soy sauce in place of fish sace, or buy a vegan “fish sauce”, sub honey for brown sugar
Non-tofu: sub chicken or shrimp for the tofu
Make this up for your next Meatless Monday! What are your favorite pad Thai veggie additions? GET THE RECIPE HERE.
Sonja Goedkoop, MSPH, RD is the Head of Nutrition for Caviar at Square, Inc. She is passionate about helping others improve their health through diet and physical activity and believes eating nutritious food should be easy and taste great. You can follow her on Twitter @SonjaGoedkoopRD.
The American Institute for Cancer Research helps the public understand the relationship between lifestyle, nutrition and cancer risk. We work to prevent cancer through innovative research, community programs and impactful public health initiatives.