Sunday, 9 October 2011

Pad Thai

I am a quintessential city-girl. The country is too quiet and the suburbs scare the beejesus out of me. I love the concrete jungle, the city life, the urban landscapes. Restaurants, bars, shops, cultural effervescence, freaks, geeks, squares and yuppies… And, like most typical city-slickers, Chinese, Thai and Szechuan food are an important part of my diet. What's not to love about it? Spicy, filling, cheap and often available even after the bars are closed, when you really need a snack…

The problem with many of North Americans' favorite Asian take-out foods is that they are as greasy as they are yummy. Not to mention the eternal cliché of those small restaurants' cleanliness standards… I am by no means a germ-phobic person, but even at my punkiest moments, I prefer to eat food that had been prepared in a clean wok. As such, I am always more than happy to treat myself to my favorite Asian food at home, where I can control how many times the stuff is fried, and decide exactly what veggies I get as a side-dish (why always green bell peppers and bok choy, why?!).

I am hooked on the hot, bitter kick of a good Pad Thai, but I was never a fan of throwing eggs in there, so when I found Isa Chandra's Brooklyn Pad Thai recipe in "Vegan with a Vengeance", I could hear the hallelujah chorus in my head. Unlike many cookbook authors out there, Ms. Moskowitz is not afraid to use spices liberally, and one taste of her delicious and absurdly simple sauce had me convinced.

Be sure to have your sauce and all your ingredients ready when you turn the heat on your wok, because once the process is started, it all goes quite fast! I suggest putting all the ingredients that go in the wok at the same time in the same bowl; that way, you can throw a bowlful in at the time without making a mess.

1 pound thick rice noodles - I like medium noodles such as these:

For the sauce:
6 tablespoons tamari
6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons Shriracha
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoons lime juice

For the Pad Thai:
6 tablespoons peanut oil
1 pound tofu, pressed and cut into very small triangles
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced lemongrass
2 cups bean sprouts
5 to 8 scallions, sliced
2 dried red chili, crumbled
1/2 cup roasted peanuts
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Lime wedges

Prepare the rice noodles according to package instructions. Whisk together the ingredients for the sauce.

Preheat a large wok over moderate-high heat. Pour 2 tablespoons of peanut oil in the wok, and heat, then quickly add the tofu. Stir-fry for 4 to 5 minutes, until the tofu is crispy on the outside.

Remove from wok and set aside. Pour 2 tablespoons of peanut oil in the wok. Add half the red onion, and stir-fry for 30 seconds.

Add half the garlic and half the lemongrass, and stir-fry for another 30 seconds (I like to add mushrooms to my pad thai; if you want to do the same, this is the point at which you should add them for them to have time to get brown and juicy).

Add half of the sauce and when it starts to bubble, add half the noodles.

Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly, then add half the tofu, bean sprouts, scallions, chilis and peanuts. Stir for 30 seconds.

Transfer to 2 serving plates and garnish with cilantro and lime wedges. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.

My boyfriend has the steel taste buds of an ex-smoker; if that's your case too (or if you just like it nice and hot), add another tablespoon of Shriracha to the sauce. Also keep in mind that the dried chile can be substituted with 2 tablespoons of chile flakes. Lemongrass can be hard to find; if you have some, great! If you weren't able to find any, the Pad Thai will still be very tasty.

I prefer wider rice noodles to the vermicelli type, but ultimately, the result is the same; they will absorb a good part of the sauce and become tangy and delicious. There should still be a bit of sauce left, to coat your tofu and which ever veggies you feel like trowing in there. I like baby corn (as you can see from the pictures), snow peas, shitake mushrooms and steamed broccoli, for variety. Feel free to substitute the tofu for chicken and/or shrimps if you fancy a more authentic Pad Thai; just make sure they are cooked through!

If you want something more classy than Japanese beer to drink with your Pad Thai, I would recommend a rosé wine that isn't too dry. A little liquid sweetness will balance out the piquant flavors of the Pad Thai beautifully. Cheers!

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