Spring Vegetable Pad Thai

One of our favorite Thai noodle dishes – Pad Thai – gets a vibrant Spring makeover, enlivened with fresh Spring veggies- peas and asparagus. For many, making Pad Thai at home has been challenging and disappointing, only to discover that after all the work, “something was missing”. It is my hope that this recipe will help change that. With authentic ingredients and a little practice, the recipe will teach volumes about the extraordinary balance of flavors – sweet, sour, pungent and salty- that makes Thai food so delicious.  I think of this as a teaching recipe, because once it’s mastered, it really expands our reach in the kitchen.
You may be wondering what makes this recipe authentic? Simply a few ingredients that will require you to take a trip to your nearest Asian Market: tamarind, dried shrimp, fish sauce, and salted radish. Yes, you probably could substitute other ingredients, but then, it wouldn’t  really be authentic, and again, “something would be missing”.  Most of the other ingredients you can purchase a normal grocery store, but while you are at the Asian market, you might as well explore, look around, soak it up and experience it- like the poem below, both the beauty and the terror.  In this older post,  Thai Chicken Noodle Soup, I have written down a list of ingredients that I always take with me to the Asian market, so I don’t forget things- as it’s easy to get sidetracked and distracted there at times. Prices are generally less expensive than at a grocery store, so I stock up on staples like coconut milk, rice wine vinegar, tofu, fresh turmeric, lemongrass and sesame seeds. The list is really helpful.

So before you begin, make sure to have all the ingredients out and ready. Then the recipe is fast and easy.

Read the recipe all the way through to get the general idea. Its seems like a lot of steps, but it’s really not hard or complicated. The prep takes 20 minutes, the cooking takes 10 minutes. It’s a fast meal really–but the key is to have everything ready, before you start the wok.  If you don’t have a wok, use a large skillet- turning the heat down a bit.

The first step is to soak the rice noodles. Fill a large bowl with lukewarm water, break the noodles in half and soak the noodles for 20 minutes. Time this. When 20 minutes are up, they will be bendy but not soft. Don’t worry that they are not soft, they will get soft in the wok. While the noodles are soaking get your other ingredients ready. 
The top bowl contains the dried shrimp. Chop it up a bit and toast it in a skillet, on medium heat until crispy, about 5 minutes. Set aside. The bottom bowl contains the salted radish ( fermented radish), which will need to be soaked in lukewarm water for 10 minutes, in order to remove a bit of the saltiness. If you can find garlic chives at the Asian market, grab them and use instead of scallions.
Tamarind is an essential ingredient in Pad Thai. It’s what gives it its unique tang. I use a tamarind “concentrate” -because strait tamarind paste, is quite hard, dry and difficult to break up. While at the Asian market, a Thai woman, who saw me reaching for the tamarind paste, suggested I try the tamarind concentrate instead, to make pad thai, because it’s easier to work with. I took her word for it, and tried both. The concentrate, is definitely easier and faster.

In a medium bowl, mix the tamarind, fish sauce, warm water and brown sugar ( or palm sugar) .

To give it a seasonal quality, I added fresh shucked peas and asparagus. If your asparagus is big like this, you may want give it a quick blanch ahead. If its pencil thin, it will cook in the wok.

Cut extra firm tofu, that’s been patted down hard with paper towels, into thin strips.

Have your prawns peeled and ready, and all your other ingredients prepped. You can use pre cooked prawns too. Group the egg, tofu, radish and dried shrimp together, next to the stove. Then fire up the wok. Once you start, it will only take a few minutes to cook everything on high heat, with constant stirring, so it’s really important to be completely ready, and have things close by. A metal spatula is very helpful.

Heat peanut oil (or vegetable oil), on high heat. Swirl it around the edges of the wok, coating it. When you begin to see smoke, crack the egg in the center. It will bubble and spatter. Add the tofu, radish and dried shrimp, around the edges of egg, stirring them constantly with a metal spatula, careful to keep the egg intact, for a minute, until they get golden. When the edges of the egg are golden brown, flip, and break it apart into a few pieces with the metal spatula, and then stir it all together, letting it brown up a bit, for another minute.

Add the noodles and bean sprouts –constantly stirring and flipping for one more minute. Add the prawns, peas, asparagus and tamarind sauce. Stir until the prawns are cooked through, the noodles are soft, and the liquid has evaporated, about 4 minutes. Add the scallions ( or garlic chives) and ½ of the peanuts.

And serve immediately, garnishing with lime, more peanuts, scallions ( or chives) , fresh bean sprouts and chili flakes.

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
Rilke, translated by Joanna Macy -Book of Hours

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Spring Vegetable Pad Thai
by Sylvia Fountaine, Feasting at Home May-24-2014
An authentic Pad Thai recipe, enlivened with spring vegetables. Adapted from Pok Pok.
5 oz. thin flat rice noodles
1 T shredded salted radish (soaked in water)
1 T dried, toasted shrimp (medium or small)
2 ½  T tamarind concentrate mixed with  2 ½ T water
1/8 C palm sugar or brown sugar
1 ½  T fish sauce
⅛ C warm water
½ C extra firm tofu
½ C scallions or garlic chives
1 Egg
1  C bean sprouts ( plus more for garnish)
6-8  medium shrimp- peeled and de-veined ( raw or cooked)
½  Cup fresh peas ( or snap peas, or snow peas,)
½ Cup asparagus  ( or green beans, or mushrooms)
¼  cup roasted chopped peanuts
1 lime- sliced for garnish
3 T peanut oil ( or vegetable oil)
toasted chili powder or chili flakes
1. Soak the rice noodles in a large bowl of lukewarm water for 20 minutes ( time this )
2. Soak the salted radish in a small bowl of lukewarm water for 10 minutes.
3. Toast the dried shrimp in a skillet until crispy, medium heat, 4 minutes, chop.
4. Mix tamarind water, fish sauce, sugar and water in a small bowl, set aside.
5. Pat dry tofu with paper towels, pressing down to release water, and cut into 1inch long strips, ⅓ inch thick. ( see photo).
6. Chop scallions and peanuts, set aside. Slice limes.
7. Place tofu, salted shrimp and drained radish, next to stove, and have metal spatula handy. Drain the noodles, keep in the same bowl, placing the sprouts in the bowl with them. ( After 20 minutes, the noodles will still be somewhat firm but flexible– they will soften up in the wok- be sure to soak the entire 20 minutes.)
7. In a wok, heat oil on high heat until smoky. Swirl it around to coat sides. Add egg, and let it bubble and sizzle.
8. Still on high heat, add the tofu, radish and dried shrimp, around and next to the egg, stirring everything but the egg. When the edges of the egg crisp, flip the egg over and break up into a few pieces with the metal spatula, then stir and flip everything together, stirring until the tofu starts to brown- about 1-2 minutes.
9. Add the drained noodles and bean sprouts, and stir constantly, flipping the noodles continuously for 1 minute.
10. Add the shrimp, peas, asparagus and the tamarind mixture into the wok, and keep stirring and flipping, until the shrimp are cooked thru, the noodles softened, and the liquid evaporated, about 3-4 minutes. Toss in the scallions and ½ the peanuts. Serve immediately, garnishing with lime wedges, fresh bean sprouts and chili flakes.

Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield:3-4

thanks for sharing!
thanks for sharing!


  1. apucke3 says

    Let me start off by saying I had never made or even eaten pad thai before attempting this recipe, but I was feeling adventurous. Next time I make it I’m going to be more on top of things when I heat up the wok… with the temp set to high the egg got crispy faster then I was able to get everything else in the wok and then I had trouble cutting it up because it was over-cooked. I also think I over-cooked the noodles because I didn’t pre chop the asparagus… fail. However, I will attempt this again!

    • says

      Well you get and A+ for being adventurous and attempting to make a dish like this without ever having it before!! Yes, the wok part, is ridiculously fast. The first time I made it, I had similar issues, primarily because I didn’t have all the ingredients ready. Since then, it’s gotten progressively easier and tastier…it takes a little practice. I hope you try again!!

  2. Jessica says

    I don’t know why, but mine came out waaaay darker than what is in your pic. It also seemed to have too much sauce. The only thing I did different was leave out the dried shrimp and radish since I couldn’t find it in my rural town. I used 1/4 cup of the tamarind concentrate. But, yours in the pic is a lot lighter in color and much thinner than mine is.

    • Sylvia Fountaine says

      That is strange! I wonder, did you possibly use less noodles or veggies than the recipe called for? I feel like when I make this its not overly saucy, so something’s off. I will double check my recipe.

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