Monday, March 3, 2014

Pad Thai

Pad Thai has been a go to dish of mine for years. I didnt really use a recipe though. I just made a peanut sauce and sauteed some vegetables and fried some tofu and tossed it all together. This time around i took it a little more serious although I still think a recipe should only be a framework as personal taste greatly shapes this dish.

Upon doing some research i realized that the peanut heavy sauce I was doing before wasn't really traditionally accurate. I think some American Thai restaurants serve things similar to what I was making but the peanuts are mostly a garnish in traditional recipes. The sauce itself is more like a teriyaki sauce containing lots of soy sauce, souring agent and sweetener. Noodles came to Thailand in the 1600's, around the same time as chilies incidentally, and pad thai started as a very Chinese dish and slowly adapted to the thai palate and ingredients. One major change was the use of tamarind and lime to add sourness rather than vinegar and fish sauce substituting some of the soy sauce. I have used all three sour jawns and also still used a small amount of peanut butter in addition to a peanut garnish and I don't eat fish.

This dish is very heavy on garnishes, with the majority of the ingredients being added after the dish is cooked. It does take a while to prepare but you can make a huge amount in a wok without too much trouble and leftovers reheat reasonably well as long as the noodles aren't overcooked the first time. I have made it twice with slightly different vegetables and encourage you to use whatever you have on hand but know that some amount of cooked and raw items gives a refreshing flavor and variety of textures. I would say peanuts and scallions are pretty crucial garnishes. I don't like bean sprouts but they are always used; I did once and can take it or leave it.

You could make the sauce ahead of time and it would come together quicker. You could also use a food processor instead of a molcajete but I wouldnt recommend it if using piloncillo (jaggery). You could certainly used a fine grained sugar and zap it all in the food processor pretty easily though the taste wont be quite the same and you wont get a hand and forearm workout while making dinner. There is some planning that is essential in creating this dish. The noodles need to be soaked before you stir fry them, but only for a half hour. If they sit much longer the texture will be ruined when you cook them. I start chopping and making sauce before soaking the noodles. You have to guess when you have a half hour of work left and then soak them.

Pad Thai
{vegan and gluten free}

12 oz rice sticks (soaked 30 mins)

1lb extra firm tofu, sliced into 1/8ths and deep fried


1/4C piloncillo (cane sugar block- and can be up to half a cup)
1/4C tamarind flesh
1/4C peanuts
2Tbl natural peanut butter
1-10 dry chilis ( i do only 2 bird's eyes and then serve with hot sauce for those that want it)

1/2C soy sauce
1/4C rice vinegar
1/4C water


2 handfuls bean sprouts
1 carrot, grated on box grater
1 sliced bell pepper, thin strips
handful chopped cilantro
4 sliced scallions
2 handfuls chopped peanuts
lime wedges for serving
soy sauce for serving
hot sauce for serving


3Tbls oil
4 cloves garlic
2 shallots
green vegetable, chopped (broccoli, green bean, asparagus)

 To make the sauce:

First, in a molcajete or huge mortar and pestle smash up the sugar a bit because its really hard and annoying to incorporate with other ingredients.Once its in small crumbles, add peanuts and tamarind. I used the shrink wrapped "seedless" tamarind block (make sure to dig out the seeds though) but I've also used jarred Indian tamarind paste which is runnier. Adjust water to taste depending which you use.  Smash it up real good. Add peanut butter and stir hard against the bowl to start incorporating it and continuing to break down other ingredients. In a small measuring cup combine soy, vinegar and water and stir. Slowly add this liquid to the bowl while stirring against the sides of the bowl.

To soak the noodles:

Get a huge metal bowl and put in dry noodles. (This will work best in the sink so you can be sloppy) Add really hot tap water and stir to make sure noodles aren't sticking together. If they sit for a half hr with no stirring you will get thick annoying clumps of noodles that don't cook right. I stir occasionally and then as the water cools run my fingers through them while lifting out of the bowl to ensure they are all individual strands

To fry the tofu:

Squeeze out as much water as possible. Extra firm holds up best to all the squeezing. The best way is to squeeze gently by hand over the sink then wrap in a few layers of paper towel or cloth napkins and place it between two cutting boards with a weight on top, like a book or skillet. Heavy but not so heavy it is crushed. Weight for 10 mins or so. Pat dry with towels. Slice block into 1/8ths. This makes it easier to flip than if it is cut into little pieces immediately. Either deep fry or shallow fry in a pan. 5 mins or more per side in a pan. Don't flip until it gets a brown crust. Remove from oil and drain on old paper bags that you have way too many of because you always forget to bring reusable bags when you go grocery shopping. Slice each piece into 4 pieces. 

To prepare the dish:

Blanch the green beans and then chop. (Boil for just a minute and then throw in a bowl of ice water so they don't overcook) Add a few tablespoons of oil to a wok and heat to medium. Add garlic and shallots when hot. Drain noodles and add to wok before garlic browns. Stir real good because thats a lot of noodles for a wok and they still have water clinging probably and they all need to get coated in oil and you don't want the garlic stuck to the bottom of the pan burning. Add green beans and tofu and stir more. Add sauce and stir more. Hopefully that's enough sauce that everything is coated really well. If not, add more water, soy sauce and/or peanut butter to thin, season or thicken as necessary. The noodles need some moisture to cook properly but its a stir fry not a soup.Test noodles for texture and sauce for flavor continuing cooking a few minutes if necessary. Add garnishes to the wok or serve table side so everyone can garnish according to their preferences and you look fancy. Even if you add all the vegetable garnishes to the wok, you should still serve soy sauce, hot sauce and a lime wedge for each plate so each person can tweak it as they like. Fresh lime juice on top is really nice even though its pretty sour already made with this amount of sugar.

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