Traditional Thai cuisine is known for its distinct spices, colors, and flavors. The most popular ones range from being boiled (tom), curried (kaeng), pounded (tam), served as a spicy salad (yam), steamed, or stir-fried.
While the abundance of fresh produce in the country makes it easy for several dishes to spotlight vegetables instead of meat, many Thai dishes are still not vegan-friendly because they use some seafood-based seasoning in the recipe. Luckily, these dishes are usually easy to make vegan by using plant-based substitutes like tofu, soy sauce, and various herbs and spices.
We put together this list of the best Thai dishes that are most likely to be vegan or can be easily made vegan.
1. Pad Thai with Tofu
Pad Thai is one of the most popular Thai dishes and the perfect introduction to Thai cuisine. This savory noodle dish is served with fresh green onions, bean sprouts, chopped peanuts, and tamarind-based sauce. It traditionally includes eggs and fish sauce, but vegans can omit these ingredients or swap them for tofu and soy sauce.
2. Green Papaya Salad
Another classic Thai dish is the green papaya salad or som tam. Tam-style salads are unique and special to some Southeast Asian cultures because the ingredients are traditionally pounded with a mortar and pestle. Aside from how this dish is prepared, the popularity of this dish comes from its diverse flavor profile – sweet, spicy, salty, and tart. The salad is also recognizable from its crunchy strips of unripe green papaya, fresh chiles, garlic, roasted peanuts, long beans, and tomatoes.
3. Fresh Spring Rolls
Thai restaurants often serve fresh spring rolls as an appetizer. Thai spring rolls are commonly filled with vegetables, including lettuce, red cabbage, carrots, cucumber, rice noodles, green onions, and herbs like cilantro. It’s best served with peanut sauce made of soy sauce, peanut butter, sesame seeds, and sweeteners, such as maple syrup, rice wine vinegar, and water.
4. Green Mango Salad
This refreshing salad is often paired with or served as a side dish to other Thai dishes. The ingredients include lettuce, diced green, unripe mangoes, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, and basil leaves. The salad often comes with the staple spicy peanut dressing.
Like most Thai dishes, this dish may also contain some fish sauce in the dressing, so it’s best to double-check when ordering it in Thai restaurants.
5. Thai Curry
Thai Curry is another staple menu item in a Thai restaurant and can be easily recreated in a vegan household. This dish is usually made with coconut milk, curry paste, and various vegetables. The famous green and red curries are spicier, while the yellow curry is milder. Regardless of the color, this dish is one of the most fragrant, flavorful, and comforting dishes in Thai cuisine.
To make the dish vegan, opt for an alternate fish sauce or remove it. Many plant-based ingredients can be added to best complement each type of curry.
6. Stir-Fried Noodles
One of the quintessential Thai dishes is stir-fried noodles with vegetables. It’s easy to make, delicious, and very filling. The standard version of this dish uses fish or oyster sauce, so for a vegan option, make sure you have the ingredient removed and use rice noodles as an alternative to the regular noodles that usually contain eggs.
What makes this dish a go-to meal for many people is the perfect combination of lime juice, soy sauce, white pepper, and chili – when all are mixed with the noodles, vegetables, tofu, and mushrooms, it creates effortlessly delicious and flavorful food.
7. Tofu Satay
Satay is an appetizer commonly served in Thai restaurants. It is traditionally made with chicken, but vegans can use tofu or other plant-based meat alternatives. Marinate the tofu or plant-based meat in a peanut curry sauce and grill them on little skewers to make satay. Make sure the tofu is fully coated in the sauce for a delicious dish. When ordering, ask whether the satay sauce and curry paste contain non-vegan flavoring.
8. Mango Sticky Rice
The mango sticky rice is a classic, must-try Thai dessert made with three ingredients: sticky rice, sweetened coconut milk, and mango slices. This dish will always be vegan, even in the least vegan-friendly restaurants. The rich and creamy coconut cream paired with perfectly ripe mangoes make this dessert a timeless crowd favorite.
9. Pineapple Fried Rice
Rice is a typical food in many Southeast Asian countries. There are many ways to cook rice, one of which is to fry it with tasty spices and flavorings. The Thai pineapple fried rice is sweet and delicious. To cook the dish, stir-fry Thai jasmine rice in a wok with chunks of pineapple, cashews, peas, and currants with curry spices.
10. Vegetarian Tom Yum Soup
Tom yum is a hot and sour Thai soup, usually prepared and served with shrimp as the main ingredient. The vegetarian tom yum soup doesn’t require any seafood ingredients, but it’s still as delicious and fulfilling. The vegan/vegetarian version of the dish uses tofu as the protein and main ingredient.
The dish is quick and easy to make. It is commonly served as an appetizer, but if it’s served as a main course, it is best to pair it with rice or rice noodles.
Related Article: The Health Benefits of Thai Cuisine
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