My Pad (Finally) has Good Thai

pad thai with tofu
If you can’t tell from the previous posts about red and green curry dishes, I am quite a fan of Thai cuisine. And if you like peanut sauce, you should most definitely check this out. But what I have yet to discuss, after almost 3 months of blogging, is one of my favorites, possibly everyone’s favorite Thai dish, Pad Thai.

I am no stranger to the neighborhood Thai joints that frequent the streets of Chicago. In graduate school, a friend of mine discovered this great little noodle shop just off the Diversey brown line called Satay. If my memory isn’t pullin’ my leg, I’d have to say this is the first place I ever tried Pad Thai. Despite trying this stir-fried dish at multiple eateries since, Satay’s version has sustained a hold of the top spot for Pad Thai for more reasons than taste alone: their tofu cooking method, price – 8 bucks, BYOB policy of the restaurant (and to boot – no charge), quantity of food being enough to feed a medium-sized country, proximity to public transportation, and the weird chatty waiter who serves it, David. And even with a lovely Thai eatery right near our house, I can’t bring myself to order their Pad Thai again. Because of Satay’s? Maybe. Because there are a thousand other good dishes there? Another maybe. But either way, Satay has undoubtedly left a mark and provided a meal that no other establishment could provide.

pad thai recipe
Until recently. After multiple iterations, I think I have finally concocted a satisfyingly awesome bowl of Pad Thai. Finally. Every time I changed something, there was something else to change. Ah, the fun of recipe tweaking. And unfortunately for you, the fact that I eyeball mostly everything these days (except when baking) suggests that even the recipe I’ve provided might not be perfect. Hence, that one bowl may be the best I’ll ever have at my place. But boy was it somethin’.


Pad Thai facts: Key ingredients are rice noodles, eggs, fish sauce, tamarind, and chili pepper. It’s generally garnished with a lime slice, crushed peanuts and cilantro, with various forms of protein added. It’s a national dish of Thailand. There’s a couple of versions of Pad Thai: the traditional (as in the version below) is dry and light (non-greasy), and the “restaurant type” is heavier and tends to be covered in oil.

pad thai with tofu

Pad Thai w/ Tofu
Serves 4-6; depending on hunger & ability to stop eating

printable recipe

I think the key is the method of cooking the tofu. You really have to dry it out good, otherwise it gets all soggy. The sprinkling of cornstarch also helps to give it a little crunch without frying it.

1 package (12.3oz) extra firm tofu
1 T cornstarch
8 oz flat uncooked rice noodles
2 T tamarind concentrate (or strained tamarind paste)**
2 T rice wine vinegar
3 T sugar
4 T reduced sodium soy sauce*
2 T fish sauce*
1-2 T Sriracha (or less, if you’re a wuss)
1 1/2 t fresh grated ginger
2 T peanut oil, divided (unrefined if you have it)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 cup fresh bean sprouts, optional
1/2 cup carrots, matchstick, optional
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 T chopped cilantro
2 T unsalted, dry roasted, peanuts, chopped
4 lime wedges

1. Drain tofu. I start this the night before by taking it out of the tray and sitting it on top of a dish towel in a round cake pan. I cover the tofu with another dish towel and put another cake pan upside down, and then i put something really heavy on top and put it in the fridge. If the towels are soaked, I do another round before cooking. You could easily do this for 30 min to 1 hour before cooking, but if it’s not drained it will lead to that soggy texture. After it’s drained, cut into 1/2 inch cubes and toss in bowl with cornstarch. Set aside.

2. Prepare noodles according to package directions, without salt. Drain and set aside. (If you make these first, I’d rinse them with cold water after cooking stop the cooking once you take them out of the boiling water – otherwise they will overcook while sitting in the strainer – you re-warm them in the skillet anyway)

3. Combine tamarind through ginger in small bowl. Heat 1 T oil in non-stick skillet over med-hi. Add tofu and saute for about 7 minutes, until golden. Remove from pan and set aside.

4. Heat 1 t oil in pan. Add eggs and egg white; cook for about 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Removed and add to bowl w/ tofu.

5. Heat remaining 2 t oil. Add noodles and cook for ~3 minutes. Stir in liquid mixture; cook ~30 seconds. Add egg and tofu back in along with bean threads and cook for about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat. Stir in onions and cilantro.

6. Divide among 4 plates, top with lemon wedge and crushed peanuts.

*If you need a gluten-free version, buy Thai Kitchen brand. The Tamari brand at Whole Foods also advertises a gluten-free soy sauce that can also be purchased low-sodium.

**Tamarind is hard to find. Sorry. I buy tamarind concentrate from The Chopping Block in Chicago or the Spice House. Even You can instead buy a block of tamarind paste at asian markets. Put a chunk in boiling water and let it soak for a while, then drain and you’ll have concentrate.

Battle Coconut & The New Terri Regime

Battle Coconut group

We’d all hoped for the month to pass quickly so that the next Iron Chef Chicago battle could begin. Challengers deduced what theme ingredient the Reigning Iron Chef (ahem… me) would choose for Battle 2. Fruits? Spices? Meat, perhaps? The possibilities were limitless. Concurrently, I’d conjured up a rather long list of possible theme ingredients, realizing that the second time around was much more difficult and inspiration-less. Basil was easy – it’s my favorite herb and once I saw Battle Basil on the TV Iron Chef, I knew that I was leaning toward choosing it for a reason. And I was sold; ingredient chosen. This time, there was no IC-inspired moment, but rather a long list of possibilities drawn from various recipes in my box and in my stack. I made my final decision about a week before the battle. Honey. And then, two nights before, I made my second final decision. Coconut. And coconut it was. Not because I was firm in my decision, but because I had to announce it the next day. But I do love coconut, and it turned out to be a rather interesting night of gluttonous fun.

Our Iron Chef group started last month and we had 11 challengers at the first battle – many of us were genetic counselors but there were non-GC’s too. The invitee list increased for the April battle as we recruited others to partake in the competition, and the eats. And so this time we had 12 challengers (some oldies, some contest virgins) with 19 dishes in the running for the title of Iron Chef.

coconut chicken wings

This time it was different. Most of us were at the first battle, so we were serious this time. Upon entering Christina’s (AKA Kitchen Stadium), we said our hellos (quickly) and then got right down to business. We were in it to win it. Since plating is part of the scoring, we all brought our serving trays, spoons, tongs, and garnishes. We are hard core. Once we were all set up, it was time to feast. And then we socialized!

coconut cupcakes

For fear of having all sweet dishes, I made two savory treats instead of my planned one sweet and one savory. It worked out nicely as my sweet dish was a coconut vanilla bean cupcake and we ended up with three cupcake dishes. And so, my first dish was coconut-lime marinated chicken wings served with two sauces, a coconut peanut sauce and a habanero coconut sauce. My second dish was coconut shrimp served with a tamarind BBQ sauce. I think the two wing sauces were the more popular of the three sauces, so I’ll post those recipes below.

coconut basmati rice

And again, we had some great dishes. I’d say almost every single one was tasty. But it all came down to the one with the highest score – the most creative, the most visually-appealing, and the one that resonated with coconut at a level above the others.

Terri is now the reigning Iron Chef and gets to pick the next theme ingredient. She didn’t even wear the coconut bra – surely that would have boosted her score even higher, but she didn’t even need it! What a champ! I do fear for that next ingredient – she’s a tough challenger, but I already have a couple of guesses as to what she’ll pick. I just hope I’m right because I need that title back!

chocolate coconut ravioli

So following Battle Coconut, I didn’t bring home another victory, or even second or third place, but I did have quite an enjoyable night with old friends, new friends, and lots of yummy food. Oh, and the leftovers in the fridge aren’t bad either (well, the ones that Chris didn’t eat when I got home….).

Now the countdown begins to Battle 3!

coconut macaroons

The Top Three:
1st place: Terri’s Twice Baked Coconut Sweet Potatoes
2nd place: Hope’s Coconut Spice Wraps
3rd place: Jennifer’s Coconut Chocolate Ravioli

twice baked coconut sweet potatoes

My sauce recipes:
Coconut Habanero wing sauce
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup melted butter
3 tablespoons TABASCO® brand Habanero Sauce
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2/3 cup dry unsweetened grated coconut
Mix all ingredients in small bowl. Add more honey to cut heat if desired and more coconut to increase coconut flavor, if desired. Puree with immersion blender or in food processor/blender, until somewhat smooth.

Coconut Peanut Sauce

1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup canned cream of coconut
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup water
1/8 tsp dried hot red pepper flakes
1 tsp soy sauce
Mix all. Add more coconut to increase flavor. I added some shredded coconut to thicken the sauce and add more coconut. Blend.