Those of you who know me know I love pasta. My relationship with noodles is not an I-like-you-on-a-good-day relationship. It’s an all day, every day, text-every-hour commitment where we both give and take. That’s a lie. I’m usually doing most of the taking, or all of it, but no matter. It is love.
Pad Thai is one of those noodle dishes that looks like it is supposed to be drenched in sauce but actually, it’s a dry tangled mess of noodles with flavor out the wazoo! Because it doesn’t have that sauce to fall back on, the cook on the noodles has to be perfect! Boil it one second too long and your eating a bowl of mush. Its tasty mush- but still not that gummy goodness with a little crunch from the bean spouts and peanuts, heat from the cayenne, and chewiness from chicken or “shrimp”- you know, all that stuff that makes it a perfect bite. Once you nail the noodles your pretty much home free because the rest of it is basically a stir-fry. Only it is more than a stir-fry. It’s perfection.
The first time I had Pad Thai was 4 years ago in a restaurant in Israel called RYU. We were a party of about 12 people, most of whom we had met the year before at the Western Wall, and 6 guitars. It was the night before my first official date with my husband (which is by the way the craziest story ever, I kid you not- for another time) and my brain was bouncing like a red rubber ball. Our waitress Yael, (who still works there!) brings this big bowl of noodles to the table. The bowl was empty within 5 minutes. I won’t say I ate most of it, but I will say that I discovered that noodles calms nerves that night! We came back the very next day for doubles.
Unfortunately, I would wait another two years to have Pad Thai again. The first time I looked up a recipe, it was so daunting I shut down the idea as soon as I saw banana flower and preserved turnip in the recipe. Most of the ingredients were unfamiliar, confusing, and had names I couldn’t even pronounce, which I found is pretty common in Asian cooking! It took me another six months and a serious craving to attempt to navigate an authentic Pad Thai recipe again. With some serious tweaking and substitutions I was able to figure out which ingredients were necessary, and what would just have to go. At the end of the day, I had one great Pad Thai recipe that was Kosher and didn’t require a confusing trip to an Asian Market. I still had to buy some weird ingredients you wouldn’t normally find in your pantry but for this, it was totally worth it! If you are having trouble with some of the ingredients, leave a comment or send me an email and I will do my best to help you out!
The key to making this recipe easy and ensuring it is done properly is prep. You know all the recipes that say have all your vegetables chopped and ready to go and you laugh and say, “Ya right! I have 5-8 minutes to brown the chicken. I’m not prepping anything!” This isn’t one of those recipes. This is a fast paced recipe where once you start you really have to keep everything in your pan moving and you don’t really have time to chop and mince. For this reason, even all you prep haters, should take the few extra minutes before turning on that fire to chop, mix and mince accordingly.
What I love about this recipe is it can be made as a Meat dish or a Pareve one. (For more information on Kosher and why Jews do not mix Milk and Meat click here ) This way you have a filling dinner with proteins and carbs and veggies all in one with and a potential open opportunity for ice cream later on! What more could you ask for? Oh right, the recipe, duh!
1 package rice noodles, preferably fettuccine*
2 tablespoons peanuts (Optional)
2 tablespoons oil
1 shallot, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon preserved turnip (Optional)
1/3 cup extra firm tofu, sliced into matchsticks
2 tablespoons tamarind paste
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground dried chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder
4 teaspoons soy sauce
1 egg, lightly scrambled
1 package faux shrimp, chopped into large chunks
3-4 chicken breast cutlets, pounded thin and sliced into thin strips
1-1/2 cup chives, sliced into 1 inch pieces (Optional)
1-1/3 cup bean sprouts (Optional)
Ground white pepper to taste
1 lime, sliced into wedges
Prepare the noodles to al dente according to package directions. Do not overcook.
Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain again. Cover with a damp towel until ready to use.
In a small bowl, whisk together the tamarind paste, sugar, chili powder, cayenne pepper, and soy sauce.
In a wok or large skillet heat the oil on medium to high heat. Toast the peanuts for about a minute or two and constantly move them around so they do not burn. Remove from the pan and set aside to cool. When cool give the nuts a rough chop.
Add the shallot, garlic, preserved turnip (if using) and tofu into the wok. If you are using chicken strips add them now as well. Allow them to brown nicely but do not let them burn (about 5-8 minutes).
Add the noodles to the wok and move them around so that the noodles do not stick to the sides of the pan. Pour in the tamarind paste mixture and toss the noodles until the sauce is integrated. If your mixture is more liquid, your heat is not high enough. Turn the heat higher and continue to stir until it is less liquid.
Push the noodles up the sides of the wok or toward the edges of the pan to create an empty center so that you can cook the egg. Pour in the egg and scramble until it is almost completely cooked. Gently fold it into the noodles until fully integrated. If you are using the "shrimp" add it now and stir in the white pepper as needed. Fold in some bean sprouts and chives (if using) reserving some for garnish.
Transfer the noodles into a bowls (it should be a dry soft and tangled mixture) and garnish with remaining bean sprouts, chives, and the chopped peanuts and lime
Serve with chili powder, soy sauce, vinegar and sugar as optional condiments.
* You may be tempted to use Brown Rice Noodles or Plain Fettuccine. DON’T! The texture will be so wrong you will cry. No one should cry over noodles-ever.