Homemade Pad Thai: a culinary revolution
Walk into Pad Thai Too, second to none for questionably authentic yet delicious Thai cuisine in Waterville, and you’re sure to see it filled with familiar faces of the Colby community. Groups of friends gather boisterously around the sticky laminate tables; professors and their spouses, or the occasional professor and their suspected inter-departmental lover (awkward!), share intellectual banter and edamame; bad first dates gaze out of the large windows into the filthy Marden’s parking lot; promising second dates giggle while anxiously removing a stray bean sprout from their front teeth or sipping from a tall glass of Thai Iced Tea, two straws.
But the best way to devour the Drunken Noodle with Tofu or the Vegetarian Pad Thai (three spicy stars), to me, is in solitude. Pad Thai Too will graciously deliver dinner to your door for an extra two dollars, perfect for those blustery weekend winter nights when you just can’t bear to part with your couch.
Last week, on one such chilly evening when my apart-mates and I were feeling particularly lazy, we called in a hefty order and waited. And waited. And waited.
After an hour and a half, I had had enough. My mood declined rapidly as my hunger increased—I actually went so far as to vow never to be tempted by their saucy rice noodles again. The arrival of the scruffy delivery boy did quell some of my anger (an extra few dollars, for cuteness), but Pad Thai Too’s backed- up kitchen sparked some fiery interior rebellion. Who says I can’t make my own Pad Thai?
Indeed, whoever did say so is terribly mistaken. Pad Thai is deceivingly simple—really no more complex than your average stir-fry—and delicious when made at home. As Mark Bittman said in his New York Times food column “The Minimalist,” Pad Thai “requires little more than chopping and stirring, and comes together in less than a half-hour.” You need not wait in famished frustration for your Pad Thai again.
This recipe is a kind of blended adaptation of Bittman’s recipe, which appeared in the Times last spring, and Cara Eisenpress and Phoebe Lapine’s, posted on their blog “Big Girls Small Kitchen.” The ingredients that might seem unfamiliar to you—the rice noodles, fish and oyster sauces—are easily found in the “Asian” aisle of Hannaford. Everything costs less than 20 dollars, and the recipe generously serves four, making homemade Thai cost effective, too.
Be warned: fish sauce smells absolutely revolting, but I promise the final aroma that wafted throughout my apartment was delightful and well worth it. This stinky sauce also makes the dish unsuitable for true vegetarians, but you can substitute low-sodium soy sauce if you so desire. I took the liberty of adding the tofu, cabbage and sprouts, so feel free to make the dish your own with any combination of your favorite proteins and veggies, and any level of spiciness.
Have I actually cut Pad Thai Too out of my life? No, and nothing quite replicates the experience of dining in the restaurant on KMD, awkward date sightings, tacky décor and all. But this recipe offers a simple alternative of spicy, crunchy, salty and sweet noodles that deceive my friends into thinking I’m more adept in the kitchen than I actually am. Eat up.
Vegetarian Pad Thai
(Makes four servings)
1 pound rice noodles 6 tablespoons oil 1 lb. extra firm tofu, cubed 3 scallions, sliced 1 leek, sliced (white and green parts divided) ½ head of green cabbage, sliced 1 cup mung bean sprouts 4 garlic cloves, minced 2 eggs, beaten 2 tablespoons sugar 2 tablespoons fish sauce 4 tablespoons oyster sauce red pepper flakes, to taste
bean sprouts chopped peanuts 1 lime, cut into wedges Siracha sauce or red pepper flakes
Soak the rice noodles in warm water for 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Squeeze the tofu between paper towels and let sit for five to ten minutes until most of the moisture is out. Get it going in a frying pan with a little oil over medium heat, flipping every now and then until evenly browned. Turn off heat and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat the rest of the oil in a large wok or non-stick skillet over a medium-high flame. Add the leek, scallionsand cabbage and saute until it begins to brown, about three minutes. Add the garlic and cook until golden, about one minute. Pour in the eggs and quickly scramble. Toss together with the noodles, sugar, bean sprouts, tofu, fish and oyster sauces until well mixed. Continue to stir fry until the noodles are cooked through and slightly charred, about three more minutes. Add red pepper flakes to taste, depending on how much spice you’re needing in your life.
Top with more bean sprouts, ground peanuts, more pepper flakes, and a lime wedge. Serve in a big bowl alongside the garnishes.