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

December  8, 2016

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.

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.

Photo 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. Photo by Alexandra Stafford

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.

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



Fresh T. December 12, 2016
Another Ali winner! Thanks for the suggestion!
Author Comment
Alexandra S. December 13, 2016
So happy to hear this, Dana!
Lindsay-Jean H. December 8, 2016
This sounds incredible, I can't wait to try it!
Author Comment
Alexandra S. December 8, 2016
Thank you Lindsay-Jean!
Katie December 8, 2016
How hard is it to call something "pad-thai-inspired" rather than mislabeling something that's obviously not pad thai? Really, given the amount of flak that other food publications have rightfully gotten for deracinated, anemic versions of Asian foods, you'd think Food52 would have learned something.
Riddley G. December 8, 2016
Hi Katie! The article does mention this a completely off-script pad Thai, however we understand your comment and have updated the headline to better reflect the nature of the recipe. Thank you!
Author Comment
Alexandra S. December 8, 2016
Thank you, Riddley!
David P. December 8, 2016
Why the deletion of egg? Just curious
Author Comment
Alexandra S. December 8, 2016
Hi David, I find I never can get the texture the way I like it. So, here it was scrambled with the cabbage before the other vegetables were added back in, and I'm sure it was just my technique (or maybe I just never cooked it long enough) but I found it added sort of a mushiness that I didn't love. I think if the egg were firmer, I would like it better, and I could probably solve that by just pushing the cabbage aside and scrambling the egg in its own spot, then breaking it up, but the way I was doing it wasn't quite right.