(Note: this post was originally published on September 1, 2019. It has since been updated with a few tweaks.)
A Healthy Pad Thai Recipe for Summer
Imagine Pad Thai going on a tropical, raw-food beach vacation. That's the best way to describe this salad! It's a super-fresh and subtly tropical spin on everyone's favorite Thai dish that unites hearty Napa cabbage, sweet carrots, juicy mango, and crisp cucumbers. Fresh herbs and crunchy, salty peanuts make it extra special.
This is, of course, absolutely nothing like the classic dish. Instead, it's my own very non-traditional spin that is loosely inspired by the flavors and ingredients in Pad Thai. This Pad Thai salad relies on cabbage and carrot ribbons in place of noodles and introduces a bunch of additional fresh flavors. So is this dish a Pad Thai salad or a raw Pad Thai? I'll leave it up to you to decide.
Not only does this non-traditional cabbage Pad Thai taste like a beach vacation, but it's fast and easy to assemble. It's completely no-cook and can be prepared ahead of time, making it a great dish for entertaining or for a busy or hot summer evening.
Is Pad Thai Healthy?
Although I occasionally enjoy the classic version at a restaurant, generally speaking Pad Thai isn't full of good-for-the-body ingredients. Of course it depends heavily on how it's prepared and what goes into the sauce, but at the least it usually involves a lot of noodles. Noodles are fine in moderation, but veggies are even better, so you'll see this raw Pad Thai relies entirely on veggies. Some recipes call for fish sauce in the classic dish, so if you're veggie or vegan make sure to ask.
How to Make Raw Pad Thai
Instead of noodles, this healthy Pad Thai recipe uses colorful veggie ribbons, in particular Napa cabbage, for its texture. Napa cabbage has an elongate shape and more tender and fluffy leaves than regular cabbage. It excels in raw preparations like this because it doesn't require cooking or marinating to tame its flavor. The veggie ribbons in this version have such great texture; I'd argue that this cabbage Pad Thai is actually much more interesting to eat than the noodle version.
Pad Thai Salad Serving Options
This healthy Pad Thai recipe will excel at any summery meal. It's a great side dish for a get-together or BBQ, especially because it's make-ahead friendly and travels well. Thanks to its freshness and zippy, bright flavors, it's a lovely accompaniment to grilled fare.
But you can also easily make this cabbage Pad Thai into a main course; it shines on a hot summer evening. If you want to make it heartier, add a bed of quinoa underneath and/or some grilled tofu on top. You can even do an entirely no-cook main course by thawing some frozen edamame and mixing them in, which keeps this recipe very quick to prepare.
Serving this at a party? You can add some additional garnishes if you want to make this raw Pad Thai feel fancier. Cashews or sesame seeds add some additional crunch, pineapple chunks are a fun and on-theme addition, or a sprinkle of furikake seasoning makes it extra-flavorful.
Good news for your summer parties: this Pad Thai salad can easily be prepared in advance. You can cut up the cabbage and make the carrot ribbons the day ahead of time and marinate them in the dressing overnight. You can add the cucumber and mango a few hours before serving, but I don't recommend having them sit in the salad overnight since they'll get soggy. When you're ready to serve, just toss in the fresh herbs and add the peanuts at the last minute so they keep their crunch.
Ingredients and Substitutions
Here's what you'll need for this healthy Pad Thai recipe, as well as some thoughts, tips, and possible substitutions. If you make any substitutions, I'd love to hear about it in the comments section below.
Lime juice. Definitely fresh-squeezed.
Honey or agave. Some vegans don't eat honey, so make sure to ask if needed.
Toasted sesame oil. This is a rich, nutty-tasting oil that I highly recommend adding to your pantry. It's a flavor powerhouse, especially for Asian-inspired recipes. You can make this Pad Thai salad without it, but the end result will lack depth.
Salt and pepper
Optional hot sauce. Personally speaking, I prefer this salad to be bright and citrusy, without heat. But if you love spice, feel free to add a dash or more of hot sauce to the dressing.
Napa cabbage. Use half a head if it's large, or a full head if it's small. You want to get about 5-6 cups worth of ribbon-cut cabbage. I wouldn't suggest using other varieties for this cabbage Pad Thai since they won't work nearly as well.
Salted peanuts. For sprinkling on top! These are so important for adding crunch, fat, and that classic Pad Thai flair. Feel free to use another nut if you prefer or if you have allergies; cashews would be great.
And there you have it: a very Lee-approved healthy Pad Thai recipe. I absolutely love the crunch, the bright colors, and the fresh flavors in this salad. I know this isn't a popular opinion, but to be completely honest I'm not really a noodle dish type of person. This is a much better (albeit highly non-traditional) way for me to enjoy Pad Thai inspired flavors.
How will you enjoy this salad? Will you bring it to a potluck? Maybe have it on the deck alongside some grilled tofu? Perhaps pack it on a picnic? Call it dinner when you can't bear the thought of turning on the stove on a hot summer night? I make versions of this cabbage Pad Thai all summer long and I hope you will too!
It makes me so happy to hear from you and see your creations! Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think about this recipe. If you post a photo on Instagram, hashtag #TheRogueBrusselSprout and tag me (@TheRogueBrusselSprout) in the post text so that I'm sure to see it.
A delightfully fresh and tropical take on a classic dish, this Pad Thai salad (or is it raw Pad Thai?) is perfect for warm summer evenings. It's easy to assemble, refreshing, make-ahead friendly, and travels well.