This easy pad thai recipe is made with an authentic tamarind pad thai sauce that lushly coats flat rice noodles, shrimp, tofu, and egg.
Easy Pad Thai
I’ve always had a thing for Thai food. When it comes to sharing some of my favorite Thai recipes like Thai coconut curry with shrimp or Thai basil chicken with rice, I’m always game. With two visits to Thailand under my belt where my Thai-speaking sister led us on some seriously authentic culinary adventures—yep! I’ve eaten bugs!—I can claim with certainty that Thai food just might be the cuisine I could eat every day for the rest of my life. That is, until I start missing my fave Mediterranean and Italian dishes. Still, Thai is definitely tops on my must-eat list.
This pad thai recipe is made with tender rice noodles, shrimp, tofu, bean sprouts and egg luxuriously bathed in an authentic but easy tamarind sauce. What is this tamarind you speak of? Keep on reading to discover below.
With its tempting balance of sour, sweet, spicy, and savory, Pad thai is one of the dishes I could eat forever. This noodle dish is the perfect introduction to Thai cuisine, and like skewers of chicken satay, is one of the most popular items on any Thai restaurant menu. But there’s no need to wait and order it out when you can make it so easily at home.
What Is Pad Thai
Pad thai is a quick-cooked, Thai noodle dish traditionally served as a snack food sold on the streets of Thailand. In the rest of the world, pad thai can be served as a side dish to other Thai dishes, or makes a complete main meal. Authentic pad thai is a simple dish that cooks quickly and is best eaten hot so the noodles stay slippery and juicy without clumping. It can be made with a combination of different proteins like shrimp, tofu, or chicken all together or individually on their own.
What’s In Pad Thai
Because this dish comes together fast, you’ll find the best success when you have all of the ingredients sliced, prepped, and mixed before you begin cooking.
- Flat rice stick noodles. I like rice noodles with a bit of width in my pad thai. Flat rice noodles are best.
- Tofu. Use firm tofu cut into cubes, or if you like more texture, use my baked crispy tofu recipe before adding the tofu to this dish.
- Shrimp. For shrimp that is easier to eat, use uncooked, bite-size medium shrimp that have been peeled and deveined. Leave the tails on or off depending on your mood.
- Egg. Lightly scrambled eggs add flecks of creamy protein.
- Tamarind paste. Tamarind adds the distinct tang to authentic pad thai.
- Rice vinegar. Use seasoned (sweeter) or unseasoned rice vinegar.
- Chili powder
- Bean sprouts
- Green onion
- Lime wedges
Pad Thai Sauce From Scratch: Make It With Tamarind
Authentic pad thai sauce starts with tamarind. Tamarind has a limey, sour taste. In pad thai sauce from scratch, tamarind paste is combined with water tot provide a brighter and fresher taste than tamarind concentrate. The paste contains sweet but tart bean-like pods with seeds surrounded by a fibrous, sticky and sour pulp. The limey flavored pulp is what provides the distinctly authentic pad thai flavor. Some short cut pad thai recipes call for ketchup instead of tamarind, but they definitely don’t taste quite right.
Choose a block of tamarind paste (with pods and the fibrous pulp) or a tamarind concentrate that’s already had the work done for you. Tamarind paste provides a fresher, less cooked flavor than the concentrate.
Soften tamarind paste in warm water. Allow the paste to sit for about 10 minutes then massage the pods and fiber to create the tamarind “juice”. Once diluted, the juice will be somewhat thick and dark brown. Discard the fiber and seeds.
If using tamarind concentrate, use half as much. The ratio of tamarind concentrate to tamarind paste is 1:2.
How to Make Pad Thai Sauce
Combine the reserved tamarind juice with the warm water and sugar. Whisk the tamarind with warm water for the sugar to dissolve. It may not dissolve all the way and that’s okay, just be sure to scrape all of the sugar into the pan when combining with the noodles.
Add chili powder for heat. If you like it more spicy, this is where you would spice it up by adding more. Or, try up to 1 teaspoon cayenne instead.
Use brown sugar for a more molasses bite. Thai cooking typically calls for granulated sugar, but for more depth, try light brown sugar.
Rice vinegar adds a spunked sweet tang. Taste for seasoning, and add more if desired.
If you can’t find tamarind, use a combination of lime juice and water. Substitute the tamarind with ⅓ cup lime juice and ⅓ cup water.
How to Soften Rice Stick Noodles
Instead of boiling rice stick noodles, soak them instead. Because of their delicate nature, rice stick noodles should be only partially cooked when used in stir fries. Rice stick noodles are more delicate than wheat pasta noodles and will fall apart faster if over cooked and will soften as they cook alongside the other ingredients.
How to soften rice stick noodles. Place the noodles in a baking dish and cover with boiled water to soak for about 20 minutes. Agitate the noodles every so often so they don’t stick together. Or, bring a pot of water to boil, turn off the heat, and immerse the noodles in the water to soak.
How to Make Pad Thai
Stir fry over high heat. Stir frying at a high temperature means this dish cooks quick, but also that ingredients like garlic and shrimp can quickly go from good to bad. Be sure to stir the garlic continuously in the 2 tablespoons hot oil so it doesn’t turn bitter or burn.
Don’t overcook the shrimp. Stir fry the shrimp just until beginning to turn pink, then add the noodles to the shrimp and tofu.
Use baked crispy tofu instead of uncooked in this dish. For more texture, my baked tofu recipe is a healthy way to add fried flavor without the fat and calories.
Push the noodles and such to the side and scramble the eggs. Add the remaining oil and cook the eggs undisturbed until the bottom begins to set, then scramble until fluffy.
Sauce It Up
Add the sauce and bean sprouts. Pour the sauce over the noodles, shrimp, tofu and egg with the sauce and toss well with the bean sprouts. Continue stirring as the noodles continue cooking and become glossy and flavorful with the sauce.
Cook until the noodles are tender, but don’t go too far. Rice noodles can quickly go from cooked to over cooked and falling apart. Taste test as you go and cook just until the noodles are tooth tender.
Add the Garnishes
The final ingredient touches add brightness and texture to pad thai:
- Add crunch and saltiness with ground peanuts.
- Chopped green onion adds a bit of heat.
- Finish the dish with the bright zip of fresh squeezed lime.
What to Serve With Pad Thai
- Chicken Satay With Lighter Almond Dipping Sauce
- Thai Basil Chicken (Pad Krapow Gai)
- Baked Thai Turkey Meatballs
- Thai Chicken Larb Lettuce Wraps
- Baked Chicken Wings With Thai Peanut Sauce
If you make this recipe, please let me know! Leave a rating on this recipe below and leave a comment, take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #foodiecrusheats.
The BEST Authentic Pad Thai
For the Sauce
- ½ cup hot water , plus 3 tablespoons warm water
- 2 tablespoons tamarind paste
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
For the Pad Thai
- 8 ounces ¼" flat rice stick noodles
- 3 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
- 3 cloves garlic , pressed or grated
- 8 ounces medium size shelled and deveined shrimp , 41/50 per pound
- 8 ounces firm tofu , drained and cut into ½" cubes
- 2 eggs , lightly whisked
- 1 ½ cups bean sprouts
- 3 green onions , chopped, about ½ cup
- ⅓ cup chopped peanuts
- Place the tamarind paste in a small bowl. Cover with ½ cup of hot water and let sit for 10 minutes for the paste to soften. Massage the pods with your fingers, squeezing the juice from the fiber and pods. The juice will be dark and somewhat thick. Discard any extra fiber and pods, then strain the tamarind juice through your fingers into a medium bowl. Whisk in the 3 tablespoons warm water, sugar, fish sauce, and chili powder until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside.
- Place the rice stick noodles in a baking dish and cover them with boiled water. Let the noodles sit for about 20 minutes, stirring and agitating occasionally so the noodles separate and don't stick together. The noodles should still be firm but pliable so they don't fall apart when stir-fried, where they'll soften more. Drain and set aside.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet or wok over high heat. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute until aromatic, stir frying the whole time. Add the shrimp and tofu and continue stirring as the shrimp cooks and begins to change color. When the shrimp begins to turn pink, add the noodles, and cook for another 30 seconds, stirring continuously.
- Move everything to one side, add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan, let it get hot, then add the whisked eggs. Cook undisturbed for 20 seconds then whisk to scramble. Combine with the noodles and add the bean sprouts and sauce and cook, stirring constantly, until the noodles are softened and the shrimp and tofu are well coated. Stir in the green onion and the peanuts, and remove from the heat. Top with more peanuts if desired and serve immediately with lime wedges.
- If you can't find tamarind paste, try tamarind concentrate instead. 1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate equals 2 tablespoons tamarind paste.
- Try adding baked crispy tofu instead of uncooked tofu in this recipe.
More Thai Recipes Ideas
- Thai Coconut Curry With Shrimp
- Slow Cooker Thai Chicken Soup
- Turkey Meatballs In Thai Coconut Red Curry Sauce
- Thai Coconut Chicken And Rice
- Thai Quinoa Salad
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Can I leave out the tofu? Hate it and have never had it in pad thai that I ordered, I think. Where could I find tamarind?
Love pad thai though. Thanks for the recipe.
Yes, you can certainly leave out the tofu and sub in chicken if you like. Tamarind can be found at good Asian stores, or I linked to it on Amazon above.
Do you still need to put the tamarind concentrate in the 1/2 cup of water or do you just use for the sauce?
Yes, mix the concentrate with the 1/2 cup water. Enjoy Holly!