The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Kids Make Pad Thai

March 21st, 2013 · No Comments · Posted in Ethnic, politics, Recipes

The inimitable Thai noodle dish

Thai cuisine is a favorite in our house. We love all the exotic flavors, especially with a little chili pepper heat. But the uniqueness of the Thai kitchen presents problems for the average American cook–namely, where to get the correct ingredients.

Many elements of Thai cooking simply have no substitutes on the typical grocery store shelf. Fish sauce, made from fermented fish, is the go-to condiment for Thai chefs. It’s virtually impossible to find outside an Asian grocery. Ditto other important staples, such as dried shrimp, galangal root (similar to ginger), kafir lime leaves and Thai basil. With any luck, you are at least within driving distance of a Thai grocery. We have a few to choose from here in the Washington, D.C., area. Otherwise, you may just have to read the recipes and dream of being in Thailand.

This week, as our food appreciation classes  landed in Thailand, we chose a classic noodle dish as our introduction to Thai cuisine: pad Thai. Making pad Thai is not terribly difficult–it’s really just rice noodles tossed  with vegetables, tofu and assorted condiments in a wok. The rub, as I said, is finding the right ingredients. This recipe, for instance, calls for tamarind paste. We found it at one of our neighborhood Latin markets. It came from Thailand.

Like many Asian dishes, pad Thai consists of several components that are prepared separately to create what the French call a mise en place, to be combined in a hot wok just prior to serving. To avoid confusion, read the recipe closely so that you are completely familiar with all of the ingredients involved and the various steps required.

Start a day ahead by wrapping a standard block of extra-firm tofu in a tea towel, placing it in a shallow pan and weighing it down with a big can of vegetables. Place in the refrigerator overnight to squeeze all of the liquid out of the tofu. This will make frying it later so much easier.

The next day, boil a kettle of water and pour 1/3 cup over a 1-ounce piece of tamarind paste in a bowl. Smash the tamarind with a fork. It may contain a number of big seeds that look like a cross between almonds and coffee beans. Focus on getting the pulp to blend with the water. Set aside.

Next, cover 4 ounces dried pad Thai noodles in a large bowl with hot water to soak. These rice stick noodles are often labeled “pad Thai.” If not, they should look like fettucine noodles but made of rice and almost translucent. Allow the noodles to soak until they are al dente, or barely cooked through. That should take about 45 minutes. You don’t want them to be too soft, as they will cook a bit further later when you throw them into the wok. When they are sufficiently softened, drain them in a colander and set aside.

Meanwhile, remove the tofu from the tea towel and season half of it it with five spice powder, a fragrant blend of fennel, anise, ginger, licorice root, cinnamon and clove. (If you can’t fine five spice powder at your local supermarket, omit it.) Save the other half of the tofu for another time. Place the seasoned half in a bowl and cover with 1/2 cup soy sauce. The tofu only needs about 30 minutes to marinate, but turn it at least once so it has a chance to soak up the soy sauce on both sides. Set aside.

Continuing with your mise en place, pour 2 tablespoons fish sauce into a small bowl along with 1 tablespoon rice vinegar. Add the pulp liquid from the tamarind by pressing it through a fine sieve. Stir in 2 tablespoons palm sugar (or substitute regular table sugar). Continue stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Set aside.

Heat your wok over a moderately high flame. While it’s getting hot, trim the roots from 1 bunch scallions and chop the scallions, including green parts, into bite-size pieces. Peel and finely chop two cloves garlic. Cut the marinated tofu into 1/2-inch-thick batons.

Pour 1/4 cup canola oil into the wok. When the oil is shimmering, slide the tofu pieces into the wok and fry, turning occasionally, until the tofu is lightly browned. Use a slotted spoon to remove the tofu from the wok. Set aside. Now add 2/3 of the chopped scallions along with the garlic. You may want to reduce the heat a little as you don’t want the scallions or garlic to burn. Stir for a minute or two, until the scallions are wilted, then crack 2 eggs into the hot oil and stir vigorously to scramble. When the eggs are cooked through, stir in the rice noodles, add the fried tofu and pour in the fish sauce mix. Toss to get everything coated, allow the sauce to reduce a bit, then pour everything from the wok onto a serving platter.

Garnish the noodles with the remaining scallions as well as a big fistful of bean sprouts and chopped peanuts if you desire. (We don’t use peanuts in our classes at school because of allergies, so we substituted chopped cashews. They work just as well.)

Serve the noodles immediately with wedges of lime. You should have enough for three generous entree portions.


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