Pad Thai was the first Thai dish that I ever tried. While my memory is vague about it's exact taste, I do remember it was spicy and pretty novel, unlike anything I had ever tried. It spurred us on to a lot of quick meals that we called pad Thai inspired where we just tossed some spaghetti or angel hair in a bit of oil and garlic and pepper and then added some crushed peanuts to it. I think I have achieved a bit more finesse with this recipe over the years.
Every restaurant has its own flavor as far as pad Thai goes. Some make it more tangy with a hint of sweet, while some places make it really sweet. I like an equal balance between the tangy element, the sweetness and the spice or pepper. Pad Thai is street food in Thailand, and they say its sold almost everywhere by the roadside - sort of like vada pav in Maharashtra.
It is very easy to make this at home, without the egg and fish sauce laden stuff that you would get in a restaurant. I once saw a Bobby Flay throwdown episode where a lady showed how its actually made in Thailand. The trick is to have only a little bit, like a serving size in the wok at a time. There is a huge pot of premade sauce and they just ladle the sauce in for each serving as they make it. Well, I certainly do not see myself tossing individual servings in a wok, but I implemented the excellent idea of having the sauce made in a different saucepan and ladling it into your wok gradually. You will need the flat rice noodle which is readily available in the grocery store.
There is no limit to the veggies you can use here - the more the merrier! Typical favourites are onions, carrots, mushrooms, broccoli, broccoli, broccoli(get it?), bean sprouts, bell peppers, zucchini etc. Tofu is of course most welcome. Basil and Lime give a fresh taste. But the tang here comes from the tamarind. You can easily get tamarind paste in any Indian grocery store. You can of course also use dry tamarind. Using basil really elevates this to another level.
I used the veggies that I had on hand, but you have carte blanche here. I could only take photos the next day, so this is just leftovers.
200g rice stix or flat rice noodle
one onion sliced
3-4 scallions chopped
3-4 cloves garlic minced
1 tsp grated ginger root
1 packet mushroom sliced
1 zucchini sliced
1/2 cup bean sprouts
1 cup julienned carrot or carrot matchsticks
1 cup steamed broccoli florets
3-4 baby corn sliced
1 pack tofu
1 cup tightly packed basil leaves
cilantro for garnish
peanut powder for garnish
For the Sauce -
1-2 Tbsp tamarind paste or
tamarind extract from fresh tamarind
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/8 cup rice vinegar
2 Tbsp peanut butter
1-2 Tbsp sugar or brown sugar or honey
1 tsp dried chili flakes
1 tsp white pepper
salt to taste
dash of sesame oil
1) Boil the rice noodles according to package instructions and wash with cold water and drain. These cook pretty fast so keep an eye on them. Gauge the quantity by the number of people you have.
2) Wash, clean and chop the vegetables as given. You can chop or slice them per your preference.
3) Was and drain the tofu. Squeeze out as much water as you can. Chop in thick long slices the way you cut the vegetables. Sprinkle some pepper on it and set aside.
4) Mix all the sauce things in a sauce pan. If you are using dry tamarind, you will need to soak it before hand, and then squeeze the juice out. You can also nuke it for a minute in some water and then squeeze the pulp. Another method I use now is that I take the ball of tamarind and a cup of water in a pot until it softens and it all becomes tamarind juice, and then i just spoon the tamarind rind out of it.
5) Start with the tamarind you got above, and add all the other sauce ingredients. You may have to vary this depending on the quantity of your noodles.
6) Boil the sauce until everything is a smooth mixture and reduces a bit.
7) Meanwhile, heat vegetable/peanut/canola etc. oil in a wok or saute pan. Add the tofu and let it brown on one side. Season the other side and toss over. Do not toss too much or you might end up with a scramble. The tofu will reduce in size as it lets out water. Season with a bit of salt once the tofu browns.
8) Start adding vegetables now. Add mushrooms and saute until reduced. Add peppers, zucchini, sprouts, baby corn etc. Saute 2 mins between each new vegetable. We want them tender crisp so do not saute too much. Add julienned carrots and broccoli at the end so that they retain color.
9) Ladle a little sauce into the veggies and add the noodles. Add half torn basil.
10) Toss gently to mix. Now add the sauce slowly until the noodles get enough sauce to your taste. Save some for adding later. Cover and steam for 2 minutes.
11) Taste and add more seasonings as needed or add more sauce. It will take you some time to develop your own taste combination of the sweet, spicy and sour elements. You will automatically adjust the sauce accordingly.
12) Add the rest of the basil, torn roughly. Serve hot with a sprinkle of peanut powder for crunch and a lime edge.
This is a very easy recipe that is a must try. There is no more need to go to a Thai restaurant for your pad Thai fix. There are a lot of spices and fresh flavors in this dish, and its a kid and crowd pleaser.
So are you off to get those rice noodles yet?