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’.

ingredients



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.

ingredients
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


instructions
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 Amazon.com. 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.

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Building Mussels without Breakin’ a Sweat

thai green curry ingredients


We took our cats in for their annual vet visit a couple of weeks ago. And although my cat has always been on the larger side, she’s never been officially classified as fat. Well, not until this visit. We’d tried portioning out their food for the past year to avoid the inevitable weight gain, but we began to notice that my cat would eat not only her portion, but also the portion of her smaller, more timid sister. Two things wrong with that picture: my cat continues to eat too much, and the other cat doesn’t eat at all. Both will lead to poor outcomes…



So anyway, after pondering various ideas, we came to a solution that will avoid both of the former scenarios. We’d feed the “non-fat” cat on the counter, since she can jump up with ease and the “fat” cat can’t, and we’d switch my cat to canned food to easily portion it out and guarantee that the other cat won’t eat it, since she refuses canned food. In trying out various brands of canned food, I’ve realized a thing or two. Some of them are true delicacies, especially for a cat! One kind I bought her was called “Savory salmon w/ lentils & ginger”. I mean, c’mon. It’s no wonder she didn’t like it. And after trying 5 different brands, I’ve come to the conclusion that she, like me, has turned into a Whole Foods snob! Their brand was the only one she ate every flavor of, and the only one she ate with pure excitement. Some, despite her normal tendency to eat all things in sight, were left untouched – overnight. Who would have thought a cat would be able to pick out organic cat food. Fortunately, their foods, unlike human food, are not too much more expensive than the brands at Petsmart.

tange & sasha

And so, in my attempt to find tasty, nutritious, balanced food for my cat, I also went on a mission to find ingredients for my weekend meals. Once I got over the fact that my cat and I now shop at the same store, I was then faced with the frustration of the WF move. The WF I normally buy groceries from is expanding and jumping a block south next month, so finding all ingredients I need at one store was like finding pizza in Chinatown. But no worries, because Dirk’s Seafood was just around the corner, and I knew they’d have the final ingredient on my list, mussels. Oh, I do love mussels.

And, I love curry, and Thai food in general, so a Thai version of clam chowder with mussels instead of clams was right on par with something I’d cook.


mussels in curry broth



The last dish I made with curry is one of my very favorites. Plus, I’d been on a break from coconut since early April, and I was ready to bring it back into my life.

I did make some changes to the original recipe. I’d gone to an Asian grocery a while back and stocked up on some hard-to-find ingredients, so I had Kaffir lime leaves and thai chiles in the freezer. I still added more lime flavor. I’m sure if you can’t find Kaffir lime leaves you could leave them out, but they do add a lot of Thai-ness to the dish. Actual kaffir limes look a lot like regular limes but are sort of bumpy, and they’re smaller. The leaves look like two leaves stuck together. And thai chilies can be bought in little bags with tons in one bag. They both freeze well and last a long time. The ones I had in the freezer are over a year old and are just as fragrant as when I bought them. Also, the recipe called for scallops, and that didn’t seem as good as more shrimp to me. So I doubled the shrimp and took out the scallops. And last, the recipe had no ginger! So I added some.


seafood with thai green curry


I tell you, straight up, this is one of the easiest dishes I’ve made in a long time. It’s full of veggies, seafood, and exotic, complex flavors. It’s actually healthy, although it looks too creamy to be low-fat. But it is. People get real excited about mussels, and the fact of the matter is that they really are a piece of cake to prepare. You literally dump them in a pot and close the lid. Voila. That being said, this recipe would be a true crowd-pleaser and a sure thing for company. And for those with dietary issues – gluten & dairy-free. Need I say more?

green curry broth

Thai Green Curry w/ Seafood
Adapted from Bon Appetit, May 2009; Serves 4


printable recipe

ingredients
2 T unrefined peanut oil (could use standard refined but will not be as robust)
5 green onions, chopped, dark green parts separated from white and pale green parts
3 T minced fresh cilantro, divided
3 garlic cloves, minced
6 T Thai green curry paste
1 1/4 cups water
1 can coconut milk (light works just fine)
2 red Thai chilies (or 1 red jalepeno chile)
2 kaffir lime leaves (or 2 T lime juice + 1 t zest)
zest of 1/2 lime
juice of 1/2 lime
1 t fresh grated ginger
1 T fish sauce (Thai kitchen brand is gluten free)
1 large carrot, peeled, thinly cut diagonally
4 cups thinly sliced bok choy
1 lb uncooked medium shrimp, peeled & deveined
1 lb green or black mussels, scrubbed, debearded
2 T chopped fresh basil
2 cups cooked white arborio rice

instructions

1. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add white & pale green onion parts, 1 T cilantro, and garlic; saute until tender, about 2 minutes.


2. Add curry paste; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add water, coconut milk, chiles, lime leaves, lime zest, lime juice, ginger, and fish sauce. Bring to simmer. Add carrot; cover and cook until carrot is just tender, about 5 minutes.

3. Layer bok choy, shrimp & mussels in pan. Cover & simmer until mussels open and shrimp & bok choy are cooked, about 5 minutes.

4. Stir in dark green parts of onions, 2 T remaining cilantro, and basil.

5. Divide rice among 4 bowls. Ladle curry mixture over rice & serve.