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A Pad Thai-Inspired Dish That's Noodle-Free (Really!)

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Low-carb is not a description that ever inspires me. But I do love Thai food. And I do love cabbage. So, when I saw the two ingredients married in a recipe for a low-carb, lightened-up pad Thai in Andie Mitchell’s cookbook, Eating in the Middle, I read on. In addition to noodles, there would be another key absence: Tamarind, the pulp extracted from the pods growing from tamarind trees, whose flavor lends a distinct sweet-and-sourness in traditional pad Thai. As someone who always feels she is using the wrong noodles and the wrong form of tamarind—paste? powder? concentrate? juice?—when attempting pad Thai at home, this was welcomed news.

Cabbage Pad Thai with Baked Tofu
Cabbage Pad Thai with Baked Tofu

I made this dish first in the late fall, when the contents of my CSA box miraculously included all of the key ingredients: cabbage, peppers, cilantro, and onions. The combination of vegetables, however unorthodox, melded into a sweet and spicy mix evoking pad Thai, the sugar and lime juice in the stir-fry sauce nicely mimicking the fruity, tart flavor of the tamarind. With peppers now out of season, I’ve been using shiitake mushrooms, whose meaty texture and woodsy flavor nicely complement the cabbage, but I imagine a number of other vegetables—julienned carrots, parsnips, and sweet potatoes, for example—could also be used.

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Photos by Alexandra Stafford

Once the vegetables are prepped—cabbage shredded, mushrooms sliced, garlic and jalapeño minced—the dish comes together in about 15 minutes: In the first five, the onions, mushrooms, and jalapeños sauté together. In the next five, cabbage cooks until crisp tender. In the final two, eggs scramble until set. Just before serving, it’s all showered with coarsely chopped cilantro and peanuts.

Recently, in place of the scrambled egg, I’ve been baking cubes of soy-marinated tofu and folding them in at the end. This step extends the total cooking time—the tofu cubes bake for about 30 minutes—but I like the texture of the crispy cubes dotting the mix of cabbage, mushrooms, and herbs. This addition makes the dish a touch more substantial, too. As Andie notes, it’s not authentic pad Thai—a small price for a super flavorful and satisfying dish. 

Look at those crispy cubes.
Look at those crispy cubes. Photo by Alexandra Stafford
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Cabbage Pad Thai with Baked Tofu

80c8d252 05ad 4f0a 8d87 5bbdefe65aa4  astafford Alexandra Stafford
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Serves 2 to 3
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
  • 3 tablespoons grapeseed or olive oil, divided
  • 1 14-oz block extra-firm tofu, patted dry, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, plus more for serving
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
  • 1.5 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 cup thinly sliced onion (1 small onion)
  • 7 to 8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 jalapeño, seeds removed, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • Kosher salt
  • 5 cups thinly sliced cabbage (about half a small head)
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped peanuts

Alexandra Stafford is a writer, photographer, and occasional stationery designer based in upstate New York, where she is writing a cookbook. You can read more of her work on her blog.

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Tell us: How do you feel about untraditional pad Thai? Is it a yay or nay?