Thailand - Pad Thai
Nothing but full of deliciousness. Homemade toasted nuts, presoaked rice noodles. Yum.
Okay, so I remember way back when I first started college, I didn’t have much experience with food from around the world. It wasn’t until freshman year that I really started to explore new dishes. I of course gained freshman 15 because I mostly stuck with cafeteria food, but slowly and surely I made sure to broaden my horizons. There was this one Thai restaurant near campus that everyone would go to for their fix. If one had a car, they would venture out a little bit more for restaurants that were known to be better. But this specific one near campus was the best place for our freshman minds.
Well, Pad Thai was my first foray into Thai food, followed by curries and soups. But Pad Thai to this day is probably my go to Thai favorite. The flavors in this dish are complex and just so flavorful. They go so well together, so I knew when it came to Thailand, I had to do Pad Thai, even though there are SO MANY other options available. It’s flexible in the sense you can make it vegetarian if desired, simply by taking out the shrimp, chicken, or whatever meat you decide to use. You can easily use tofu. And then substitute soy sauce for fish sauce. Up to you!
1/2 package Thai rice noodles
1/3 cup firm tofu (chopped)
2 tbsp oil
2 tbsp peanuts (roughly chopped)
1 shallot (minced)
3 cloves garlic (minced)
2 tbsp tamarind paste (sub vinegar)
2 tbsp sugar
4 tsp fish sauce
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 lb shrimp
Ground white pepper
1 cup bean sprouts
1 1/2 cups chives (chopped into 1-inch pieces)
1 lime (cut into wedges)
Cilantro or chives, to garnish (optional)
Soak the noodles in lukewarm water while prepping. When you’re done prepping and you are ready to start actually making the dish, if the noodles aren’t soft enough, you can boil the noodles until slightly al dente. Drain and set aside. Or of course, just follow the directions on the packaging. Apparently getting the noodles just right is the hardest part about Pad Thai.
Another thing I like to do at least an hour before starting or chopping is to wrap the tofu in a paper towel and place something heavy on it to squeeze out the water. This will allow the tofu to absorb a lot more flavor from anything and everything with sauce.
When all the ingredients are prepped, heat a large wok on medium-high heat. Normally, you would probably want to use high heat to make sure the oil is smoking, but I’d rather not set off the fire alarm. Much more doable when you’re able to use high heat outdoors. Add the oil and when it shimmers, add the peanuts to toast. You can also toast the peanuts without the oil first. Remove the peanuts and set aside.
Add the shallots and saute until they become soft, about 3 minutes. Add the tofu and garlic and saute until the tofu becomes golden in color. Add the noodles and make sure to continually stir. Add the tamarind paste, sugar, fish sauce, and the chili powder. Stir until well combined.
Push all the ingredients to the sides to form a donut shape. Add the egg to the middle and continually stir to scramble the egg. When it’s about 75% done cooking, mix the noodles into the egg. If your noodles are slightly undercooked, add a tablespoon or two of water and continually mix. Set the contents aside (in a bowl) and add the shrimp to the wok or pan. Add oil if necessary. When cooked, season with white pepper and add the noodles back in. Mix in half the bean sprouts and all of the chives. Stir until well combined and cooked.
Add to a serving bowl or plate and season with more white pepper if desired and top with the roasted peanuts. Squeeze some fresh lime juice on top and garnish with cilantro or finely chopped chives if desired. Add some of the leftover bean sprouts on top.
Note: if desired, serve with a side of sugar, chili powder, vinegar and fish sauce so people can adjust to their own taste if desired. For me, sriracha and fish sauce are enough for me! You can also use beef, chicken, pork, etc… in place of shrimp. Or a combination of any meats!
Recipe adapted from Thai Table.