Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Recipe: Pad Thai

If you read my last post, you'll recall that I'd planned to make four or five new dishes for dinners last week, but unfortunately, I was only able to try one recipe due to busy evenings and a trip out of town this past weekend. I guess the upside to this is that all of the ingredients for the dinners this week are ready and waiting for me in the fridge, though, as I learned (and feared), some ingredients go bad quickly, which can really throw a wrench in dinner plans. Anywho, I had a bag of half-bad bean sprouts and some slightly wilted cilantro that desperately needed to be dealt with, so I made sure that my cousin's pad thai recipe was the first on my list of things to make this week, and fortunately, it worked out well (after picking out the good sprouts and good cilantro leaves, haha). This dish has a really interesting (and some might think weird) combination of flavors and trextures—crunchy salty peanuts, crisp green onions, tender chicken and rice noodles, tart lime—which is what drew me to it. My cousin first made this dish for me during a visit to her college apartment when I was a senior in high school. I was wary of this new dish, having, at this point, gotten used to lots of pasta dinners and my mother's various "chicken and *insert starch and vegetable side dish here*" meals (all delicious, but very "normal" compared to this pad thai dish), but I was pleasantly surprised with the unique flavors. We had this dish again when I visited her this past Labor Day weekend and I made sure to have her write the recipe down for me so I could make it for my parents. It's a delicious dish that you can make up in a big batch (like I did) or make in individual portions to allow for more personalization by the people who will eat it. I'm kind of estimating ingredients because it really comes down to preference, so you can use more or less of each thing as you see fit—I apologize if this is confusing, but just go with your gut. Obviously, if you make and plan to use all of the noodles, you should plan to buy more of each of the other ingredients. Remember, you can always add more, and it reheats well, so don't worry if you end up with a lot.

Serves: 4-6
Prep. time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 10-20 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

  • 8-16 oz. rice noodles (I bought A Taste of Thai brand; you can use any width—my cousin uses wide, I used a thinner noodle; I made up a whole box of noodles and tossed them in as desired)
  • Approx. 2-4 chicken breasts, cubed (small pieces work best because they cook faster)
  • Approx. 2 bunches green onions, chopped
  • Approx. 1-2 bags (1-3 cups?) bean sprouts
  • Approx. 1 container (a few ounces) fresh cilantro
  • Approx. 2-4 eggs, scrambled
  • Approx. 1 cup peanuts, whole or coarsely chopped
  • Approx. 3-6 limes, cut into wedges
For the sauce:
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce (it smells kind of like cat food, which is obviously not appealing, but it tastes wonderful once it's cooked and added to the noodle mixture)
  • 1/2 cup tamarind (this can be hard to find—I looked up substitutions for it and found that certain fruit juices, like orange and lime, can be used; I used the juice of 3 limes instead of tamarind and I think it tasted good)
  • 1 tsp. chili garlic sauce (I didn't have this, so I just sprinkled in a dash of garlic powder and a dash of chili powder)

Follow the package instructions for cooking/soaking the noodles (the brand I used said to soak the noodles in very hot water—I boiled water, then poured it in the bowl—and soak for at least 30 minutes). You don't want them to be super soft and soggy, but you don't want them to be too firm either.

If cooking one large batch: In a large hot pan or wok, heat about 1 tbsp. oil (a mix of peanut and canola is what my cousin recommended; don't use olive oil). Add the chicken and cook until just cooked through. Add the noodles (as much as you want) and mix them with the chicken. Add the green onion, sprouts, peanuts, and scrambled egg (make sure it's broken up into small pieces). Add the sauce and mix and let it cook for a few minutes, until the noodles and chicken soak up the sauce, the peanuts start to brown lightly, and the green onions and sprouts are crisp yet tender. Serve topped with fresh-squeezed lime juice and cilantro, if desired. Additional peanuts, fresh sprouts, and fresh green onion may be set out in small bowls so people can add more to their dish if desired, and cilantro and lime can also be set out in bowls.

If cooking in individual batches/per person: Basically, you'll do the same as above, but in smaller portions. Ask each person what they want and how much and add a smaller amount of noodles and sauce. Serve in the same way as above.

This dish combines interesting textures, tastes, and smells to create a delicious, tart, nutty, sweet dish. The bright, clean taste of the lime and cilantro add a burst of flavor to the sweet green onion, tender chicken, and salty peanuts. The sauce is a delicious mix of sweet, from the brown sugar, and salty, from the fish sauce, and the soft rice noodles easily soak it up, making them incredibly flavorful. Feel free to play around with the ingredients—subsitute shrimp for chicken, try cashews instead of peanuts, or experiment with other vegetables. This dish reheats really well, especially if you warm it back up in a pan with a little bit of oil rather than in the microwave (we actually had the leftovers for dinner tonight, along with fruit salad from my grandma and some leftover desserts from a party last week—an attempt to clean out our overloaded fridge, haha).

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