Yes, my friends. That’s what good Pad Thai is: pure happiness.
When my friend Julie and I were in England a couple of summers ago, we discovered how important it was to make reservations at restaurants on Saturday nights. Unfortunately, we learned a little too late. After we had sat in the Loch Fyne in Henley-on-Thames for about an hour, we realized getting a table might just take until the next morning. We left and wandered in the drizzle to a nearby Thai restaurant. Looking back on that night, I realize the Pad Thai we ordered was not that great, but since we were so hungry, and so tired, it tasted like food from the gods.
The very first time I ate Pad Thai was when Shannon made it for me. She followed the recipe in America’s Test Kitchen’s The New Best Recipe. Although I have never bought it on the streets in Bangkok, from what I understand, it’s pretty close. It isn’t like some of the reddish, greasy versions of pad thai you find in American restaurants (or English restaurants, apparently), it’s lighter, tangier, and in my opinion, perfectly wonderful.
However, since I can easily down the full recipe by myself in one day, I decided it would be better to make with whole grain noodles instead of the traditional rice stick which is made from white rice. I also cut back on the sugar by replacing it with Agave nectar.
The way I make this is a mixture of what I learned from that book, how I saw Shannon make it, and how I have adapted it myself over the years. I hope you enjoy making it.
The ingredients I list can be hard to find, but some of them are really crucial to the taste. Since that is the case, I’ll give you links to some of the products for those of you who don’t have a nice Asian store to buy them.
fish sauce (If you’re kosher or vegetarian, though, go ahead and use soy sauce)
chili sauce This Huy Fong Sriracha is available all over the place, but if you can’t find it, you can order it, or just use a pinch of cayenne pepper. (But Connie, you can just leave it out altogether, the Pad Thai will still be great!)
tamarind Tamarind is the trickiest ingredient here, but it’s really essential. The recipe just won’t taste right without it. And usually it’s pretty hard to find (Thank goodness for amazon!).
The only other real option for substituting tamarind is tamarind paste. It will make your noodles darker, but it tastes okay. Here is a link for it, though it looks like amazon isn’t selling it right now. This was the brand I used when I lived in Colorado, though, and I found it at Whole Foods.
When you’re making Pad Thai, the hardest thing is collecting all the ingredients. Since moving to our new place, I took my time gathering them all up. I have been talking about making it for almost a month now. I started with getting some tamarind and fish sauce (thank you, Shannon!). Then I bought some rice wine vinegar, and some mung beans to sprout (Wow, you think, right? No, not so cool. The bean sprouts you get at the store sure look like they come from mung beans, but I sprouted some myself, and they turned out small and bitter. I think I definitely prefer the genetically modified version from the grocery store, if that’s what they are).
Then I bought the pasta. When I was thinking on how to make this healthier, I thought I’d just use that Tinkyada brown rice fettucini pasta that you can find in health food stores and good gluten-free sections of some grocery stores. Sure enough, when I bought it, the package says it’s pad thai.
I’ll stop talking about everything I bought before I put you all to sleep. But in a nutshell, take your time, and the day you have everything ready to go, and you are dying to have some, go out and buy your cilantro and bean sprouts, since they will only keep for a day or two.
Oh, another thing, in my Pad Thai, I leave out a lot of the protein most people put in it, like chicken, shrimp, or tofu. You can add it in, of course, and I’ll tell you when, but I have found that I like it just fine without those things.
You can serve this hot or at room temperature. My personal favorite way to eat it, though, is as cold leftovers in the fridge. Mmm, and I still have some in there right now.
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 shallot, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 ounces of shrimp, chicken, or tofu (all optional)
1 egg, well beaten with a pinch of salt
7-8 ounces brown rice pad thai (fettucini style) pasta
tamarind sauce (recipe follows)
1 good handful chopped peanuts (or cashews if you’re allergic), plus more for garnish
1 bunch fresh cilantro (coriander), plus more for garnish
1 really good handful of bean sprouts, plus more for garnish
1 lime cut in wedges for garnish
1. Set a large pot of water over high heat. While it comes to a boil, set a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add in oil, and gently cook the shallots until tender, about 3 minutes. Add in the chopped garlic and cook a minute more. With a slotted spoon, remove the shallots and garlic and place on a plate and set aside. If you want to add shrimp, chicken, or tofu, add it now and cook in the oil until shrimp is pink, the chicken is cooked through, or the tofu is nicely browned. Remove to the plate with the garlic and shallots.
2. When the water comes to a boil, slide the brown rice noodles* into the water and stir with a fork. When the water comes back to a boil, let the noodles cook for a minute, remove from heat, and cover for about 2 minutes. Strain and rinse with cool water. Set aside.
*If you are using regular white rice stick (which these days is actually harder to find than the Tinkyada brown rice noodles), Let the rice stick soak in very hot tap water for 20 minutes, then drain.
3. Pour beaten egg into the hot skillet and swirl it around so the egg spreads out like a crepe. Reduce the heat to low and cover. Cook until egg is just done. Roll the egg up, put on the plate with the garlic and slice in strips.
4. Turn the heat up to high. Add the rice noodles to the skillet and pour over the tamarind sauce. Toss with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula. Add in peanuts, cilantro, and bean sprouts. Toss until most of the liquid is soaked in or evaporated. Add in reserved egg, shallots, and garlic. Toss well and pour onto a large plate. Garnish with more bean sprouts, cilantro, peanuts, and lime wedges.
tamarind sauce (can be doubled or tripled, and then frozen)
1 2 inch piece of tamarind fruit with seeds (or 2 tablespoons of tamarind paste plus 2 tablespoons water)
2 tablespoons agave nectar (or 3 tablespoons sugar)
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon chili sauce, or a pinch cayenne pepper
1. Soak tamarind in 1/2 cup of boiling water for about 5 minutes. Break up fibers and seeds with a fork, and press through a sieve set over another bowl or glass cup measure. Be sure to scrape all the pulp from the bottom of the sieve.
2. Add in the rest of the ingredients, and stir with a fork.