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‘The Weekly Veg’: Pad thai

This week on the "Weekly Veg," Ames Radwan tries a vegetarian, peanut-free pad thai recipe.
This week on the "Weekly Veg," Ames Radwan tries a vegetarian, peanut-free pad thai recipe.

For years, my family’s favorite sushi restaurant was a place near our home named IRB Sushi. Neither of my parents are vegetarians, so they would always delight in spicy tuna, salmon crunch and nigiri. I, however, am allergic to avocado, which is in most vegetarian sushi rolls — so I never ate from the sushi menu.

Instead, I turned to pad thai.

This fantastic Thai dish of rice noodles, egg, oodles of vegetables and (occasionally) tofu is most often cooked with peanuts or peanut butter. Because of this, my father — who is allergic to nuts — could never try my sauce-drenched noodles whenever they arrived at the table, no matter how much my mother and I delighted in them.

He didn’t really care, but when I discovered food magazine Taste of Home’s vegetarian, nut-friendly pad thai recipe this summer, I knew I had to make it so he could understand the deliciousness that is pad thai.

An easy, one-pan recipe (with the exception of the pot needed to boil your rice noodles), this pad thai takes only 30 minutes to come to fruition. It actually has fewer vegetables than what I’m used to in pad thai — only carrots, red peppers, green onions and bean sprouts — but I found that it was still light and fresh enough to count as a good summer recipe.

The most interesting part, in my opinion, was that you make your own sauce for this. It’s just a quick mixture of soy sauce, rice vinegar, brown sugar and lime juice, but this simple combination of ingredients creates a layered flavor with lots of depth. It doesn’t just taste like soy sauce, which is something I always appreciate in pad thai.

And because there are lots of eggs in this recipe as well as vegetables and noodles, it’s a great way to get some of your daily protein in addition to veggies and grains.

This recipe was not exactly free of stress and mistakes. Pro tip: don’t try to do all of the parts of your recipe at once! I tried to prepare my noodles at the same time as I stir-fried my veggies, which led to quite a few burner mix-ups on my part. I also left my noodles in for a minute or two too long because I was too busy trying to mix together the sauce. Lesson learned: I will cook the recipe in the order I’m given next time!

I also made the mistake of leaving my noodles in my strainer for quite a while as I cooked the eggs. Of course, when I put them into the pan once again to heat, they plopped in in one big heap and it took quite a bit of noodle-wrangling and maneuvering with a fork to get them to stop sticking to each other. I would definitely recommend keeping an eye on your noodles to make sure this doesn’t happen to you.

Finally, I had some frozen cilantro left over from my foray into shakshuka last month. I made the mistake of using this in my pad thai instead of acquiring new, fresh herbs. Instead of spreading out and giving my noodles that fresh cilantro taste, the cilantro clumped together and gave me little bursts of the flavor every once in a while.

As with most of my cooking struggles, all of these mistakes were totally on me — but I will admit that this pad thai takes a fair number of steps, each of which require attention to detail. This isn’t a recipe that you can just pop in the pan and then walk away. To make this recipe, you’ll need a lot of hands-on cooking time.

My family enjoyed a lovely pad thai night to taste-test this recipe and, as usual, we all had a lot of opinions.

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The recipe isn’t peanut-free, exactly — peanuts are optional at the end. My mom and I put some on ours, while my dad enjoyed his allergy-friendly version. Honestly, I thought that the recipe would have been better if it actually cooked the peanuts in with the noodles, or at least used peanut butter in the sauce. The flavors were a solid 8/10, but I think they could have been better with more peanut influence.

Similarly, my mom enjoyed it, but said afterwards that it could have used some more spice — we all ended up adding a hit of sriracha to our bowls, which helped a fair amount. And as for my father’s first time ever trying pad thai, I received the ever-craved compliment of “I liked it. It was good.”

(He later added: “You know, for not having meat in it.” Good enough in my book!)

It’s a pretty good recipe in the end. I think it could use a little more of everything except steps and noodles — more vegetables, spice and sauce. This pad thai can get a little complicated, but if you’re paying attention to your cooking, I think it’s worth a try — and it’s easy enough to change to your liking, if you decide you want more of this or more of that.

Rating: 8/10

Have a recipe you’d like to see on 'The Weekly Veg?' Email it to me and I’ll be happy to test and rate it.