When we lived in Southern California a few years ago, Jay and I tried just about every Thai restaurant our meager dining out budget allowed. Even though there were plenty of tempting dishes on the menu, I was always hard pressed to try anything else besides Pad Thai, especially on a first visit to a place. Maybe it's silly, but it seemed like a really good measuring stick (we like to do the same thing with pizza places and compare pepperonis--even though I'd always prefer vegetarian, heaven help me if a pizza comes with canned mushrooms...ick! ick! ick!).
Anyway, I have come to realize that making Pad Thai really is easy and after attempting lots of recipes (some even have included ketchup--not so sure how traditional that is!), I think I've landed on a keeper. I have adapted my recipe from Mark Bittman's NY Times column "The Minimalist" along with one from "Everyday Food."
Oh, and this came together in just under 30 minutes! That's even faster than I can get to my nearest Thai restaurant!
8 oz. dried rice noodles (the fettucini width is my favorite)
4 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
sauce: (*see note*)
4 tablespoons tamarind paste (check the Latin foods section)
1/4 cup fish sauce (nam pla--found in Asian foods section)
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon chili garlic sauce or a pinch of red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, thinly sliced (or 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion)
4 scallions sliced into 1" pieces, white and green parts divided
2 eggs, well beaten
salt and pepper to taste
4 cups bean sprouts, divided
1/4 cup crushed peanuts
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
thinly sliced meat or tofu, seasoned with salt and pepper or as desired (**see note**)
In a small sauce pan, combine tamarind paste, fish sauce, rice vinegar, brown sugar and chili garlic sauce. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and set aside.
In a large bowl, pour boiling water over rice noodles. Stir to separate and allow to soak until just softened, about 5-10 minutes (check them frequently, you want them very "al dente," otherwise they'll get mushy during stir frying--a mistake I've made all too often!). Drain off water and toss with one tablespoon of oil to keep them from sticking together.
Heat two teaspoons oil in a large skillet or wok over medium high heat. Stir fry shallots, garlic and white parts of scallions until onions are crisp tender and fragrant (1-2 minutes). Add beaten egg, season with salt and pepper. Scramble until just set. Remove eggs from pan and set aside.
Add remainder of oil to pan over high heat. Throw in softened noodles and pour sauce over top. Stir fry until noodles are heated through. Add cooked meat, egg mixture, two cups of bean sprouts and half of green scallion pieces. Stir to combine one last time. Divide into bowls and garnish with remaining bean sprouts and scallions, lime wedges, cilantro and crushed peanuts.
*A recipe I came across uses a sauce with extremely accessible ingredients. If you can't find tamarind paste and fish sauce, you can give this alternative a try:
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus wedges for serving
3 tablespoons soy sauce
about 1/8 teaspoon chili garlic sauce (Sriacha) or a pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
Whisk together ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. Add to the noodles at the same step as the original sauce.
**Tonight, I used pork chops tonight and grilled them while I was stir frying the pad thai so that I didn't have another step of cooking in my wok. You can also stir fry the meat or shrimp in the same pan as the rest of your pad Thai. Just add a step in between scrambling the egg and stir frying the noodles. Also, most traditional in pad Thai is shrimp and tofu, but use whatever you please or leave meat out all together.