Thai cuisine is the 4th most recognized and loved International cuisine (1) behind Italian, Chinese, and Japanese.
According to Wikipedia, in 2017, seven Thai dishes appeared on a list of the "World's 50 Best Foods"— an online poll of 35,000 people worldwide by CNN Travel. Thailand had more dishes on the list than any other country. (2)
Thai food is heavily influenced by neighboring cultures, as well as France and other European Empires from Imperialism. It focuses on the blending of flavor profiles to strike a balance between sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and savory.
In Thailand, Pad Thai is both a common street food as well as a noodle dish served in most restaurants. It has a creamy, satiating effect because of the coconut milk. However, it also offers a light, refreshing flavor from the incorporated lime juice and cilantro. The peanut topping adds a crunch and additional fatty flavor.
Our recipe for Pad Thai contains a lot of ingredients, but they provide a host of nutrients, colors, and flavors. With a white base of noodles and tofu or chicken, a pop of color comes from green beans, egg, cilantro, and red peppers. The intense flavors emerge from the sauce made of coconut milk, peanut butter, sweet Thai chili sauce, and lime juice. The dish comes together as a bright, filling meal with guaranteed leftovers.
Pad Thai is a tricky dish for those with food allergies, but if you make it at home, you can make substitutions to ensure you don't have a reaction.
Tree nut allergies beware of the coconut milk. Although you'll lose the flavor of the coconut, you can use any other type of milk, sour cream, or a pinch of heavy cream.
Coconut milk is good news for people with a milk allergy or lactose intolerance; coconut milk is safe for them.
Peanut allergies will need to substitute with cashews and cashew butter.
For those with egg, soy, fish, or shellfish allergies you can easily choose a protein without these allergens. Pad Thai has been adorned with amino acids from egg, tofu, shrimp, beef, and chicken. You can choose any or none of these!
Wheat allergies/sensitivities and celiac disease sufferers are in the clear because the noodles are made from rice, not wheat.
And for the few like my aunt who are allergic to limes, you can leave that out, but will definitely miss the zesty flavor the citrus provides.
In terms of nutrition, Pad Thai is a mixed bag. Whether you choose egg, tofu, chicken, shrimp, beef, or some other meat, you'll get a complete protein. The vegetables provide fiber, vitamins, and minerals such as vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and B vitamins.
Although Americans tend to look at Asian cuisine as healthier than typical Western meals, cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in Thailand as it is in the US (3). It's no coincidence that the food consumed there frequently contains high levels of sodium, sugar, and saturated fat.
Coconut milk, for instance, contains over 3g of saturated fat per tablespoon! (Lite coconut milk has about 1g per tablespoon.) (4) However, dishes often contain up to 12 tablespoons of coconut milk, or 36g of saturated fat! That's 81% of the daily recommendation of saturated fat for a 2,000 calorie diet.
So while Pad Thai is a nice treat and offers some health benefits, the costs are high depending on how it's made. Making it at home allows you to control the sodium, sugar, and saturated fat content.
Here's our recipe: (gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian)
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Yield: 3 servings
4 oz. rice noodles
1/2 lb. extra firm tofu
4 Tbsp. Canola oil for sauteing
1 red pepper, diced
1 cup green beans, broken into about 1-2” pieces
3 oz. bean sprouts
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup no-sugar-added peanut butter
1/2 cup lite coconut milk
2 Tbsp. Thai chili sauce
Juice of 1 lime
1 green onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. unsalted peanuts, chopped
2 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped Directions:
Cover noodles in boiling water for 7 to 10 minutes, to soften.
While noodles cook, heat Canola oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Drain tofu and cut into cubes. Brown tofu in pan for a few minutes on each side. Set browned tofu aside.
Drain noodles and set aside.
In a large wok or frying pan, add remaining oil to pan. Saute red pepper, green beans, and bean sprouts. As they become soft, add garlic, stirring constantly.
Add peanut butter and let it start to melt. Then add a little coconut milk at a time, mixing the peanut butter and coconut milk to create a thick sauce around the vegetables. Add Thai chili sauce and lime juice.
Add noodles and tofu back to the wok mixture, and mix until sauce is slightly thickened and well combined.
Pour noodles into bowl for serving and top with green onions, peanuts, and cilantro.
Nutrition Profile per serving
Calories: 738, Carbohydrates: 52g, Fiber: 6g, Added Sugar: 0g, Protein: 22g, Fat: 50g, Saturated Fat: 8g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Sodium: 133mg, Vitamin C: 63mg
Smith, M. & Sanders, L. (March 2019). These are American's favorite foods from around the world. YouGov. https://today.yougov.com/topics/food/articles-reports/2019/03/12/americas-favorite-foods-around-world
(3) Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. (2019). Thailand. University of Washington. http://www.healthdata.org/thailand
(4) Food Processor. (2020). Coconut milk. Esha USDA Food Database. [database software].
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