almost vegetarian pad Thai
Cooking Thai food without a wok or a high octane burner can be tricky! After we moved from NYC to San Francisco we sort of stopped using our wok for cooking Asian dishes. It had a round bottom and did not sit well first on the coils of our ancient electrical stove in our Eureka Valley rental and worked even less effectively on the tempered glass cook top in our Potrero Hill condo. Eventually we did get another wok with a flat bottom but I still think it doesn’t really work because it can’t get hot enough without gas. I really miss that special touch that fire, smoke and metal brings to stir-fries with high heat, especially when cooking Thai food! Gas is dangerous in an earthquake zone, so I’d opted to just give up this kind of cooking. I didn’t see how it could possibly taste “right” with sub-optimal cooking conditions.
Well, on several occasions Steven encouraged me to try again but I kept saying “no!” Perhaps it was simply “no” without the exclamation point, but I was pretty persistent. Instead we just ate pad Thai out at restaurants. But it was never as good as I remembered when I worked at a Thai place in London in the 1990’s, or as good as the Thai restaurant near our old place in Queens. I am picky. When we traveled to Thailand, I preferred the pad Thai from Queens!
After eating a lot of second rate pad Thai and with continued domestic pressure, I decided it was about time for me to make it at home again, despite the setup not being so ideal. Instead of a wok, I am now using a non-stick heavy paella pan. It’s not quite right: a bit hard to stir and there’s that subtle smoky/high heat part still missing. Overall, though, it turns out really well. We invited our friends Carey and Wendy for a “Thai-style” dinner the other night and they approved.
Squid Brand Fish Sauce
This recipe feeds about 4 people with a bit left over. It requires a fair amount of prep time, but I think it is fun making it. It is nice to see how the flavors come together.
Almost Vegetarian Pad Thai without the Wok
1 package of rice noodles soaked in tepid water for 30 minutes
1 shallot, sliced
2 cloves garlic,sliced
4 whole scallions, cleaned and sliced on the bias (never discard the green parts!)
¼ of a tamarind block/bar soaked in 1 & ½ cup warm water for 20 minutes
Juice of 2 limes, plus lime wedges for decoration
5 tbsp chopped cilantro leaves
1 tbsp sugar
3 to 4 tbsp fish sauce (you could leave this out to make the dish completely vegetarian and use soy sauce instead but the taste is totally different)
1 lb block medium-firm tofu, rinsed and cut into 5 squares
3 eggs (leave yolks out if you have cholesterol concerns)
2 cups of bean sprouts (Moyashi)
5+ tablespoons canola oil
Use your fingers or a fork to mash tamarind into a thick paste. Pass it through a strainer and discard the solids (pod and seeds). For this dish you need ¾ cup of the thick paste. Left over paste can be made into a tamarind juice. Just add more water and sugar, some ice and drink it while making your pad Thai!
Add fish sauce (or soy for vegetarian) and sugar to tamarind paste. Mix.
Drain Noodles and using a pair of kitchen shears, cut strings into 10-14 inch long pieces.
frying tofu with garlic and shallot
Heat your paella pan or wok with one tbsp of oil. Sauté tofu squares on medium heat with garlic and shallot for about 4 minutes on each side to slightly brown. Transfer to a platter and keep warm. Return pan to burner and fry and scramble eggs for a minute or so. Reserve cooked egg with tofu. Return pan to stove, crank temperature to high and add remaining oil followed by noodles. Give it a good stir. Add half of the tamarind mixture and stir until incorporated. Add the rest tamarind mixture. Fold in egg and tofu, scallions and sprouts, garlic and shallot, stirring gently to warm everything evenly. Adjust flavor with extra fish (or soy) sauce if necessary. Add lime juice.
Transfer to a serving platter. Sprinkle with cilantro leaves and lime wedges and serve immediately.