Pad Thai is one of the most popular Thai dishes in the U.S., although it’s apparently more Chinese than Thai. Don’t worry. Thais actually eat it, too. When I spent time in Bangkok and in smaller towns around the country in 2002 and 2008, pad thai was on the menus in restaurants as well as at the ubiquitous street market stalls. Salty, sour, slightly sweet, with the right amount of oil, Paht Thai noodles can be heavenly. Not surprisingly in Thailand, they were quite a bit cheaper (around 32 baht/ 1 USD) and almost always more delicious than the ones I’ve tried in the States.
I’ve yet to find a comparable restaurant version in Denver, but if you live in Austin, Texas, get yourself to Titaya’s. Hands down, it’s the best Thai restaurant in the city. On my quest to make a kick-ass Pad Thai in my own kitchen, I tried Nancie McDermott’s recipe in her cookbook, Quick and Easy Thai. The spring rolls, spicy peanut sauce, and shrimp red curry with pineapple recipes in Quick and Easy Thai turned out well, so I picked up the ingredients in her Paht Thai Noodles recipe and got cooking.
If you’re looking for a quick pad thai recipe that gets the job done, you won’t be disappointed with this recipe. Last week Cameron and I doubled the recipe and chowed down on this as a one-bowl meal after our respective long days at work. Though this version of pad thai was tasty, it was missing a few obvious ingredients: carrots and cilantro. But it was also missing a special “something” in the sauce: tamarind. Tamarind adds the perfect oomph to an already delicious flavor profile.
Give this recipe a try as is if you want a quick stir-fried noodle dish. Meanwhile, I’ll be fiddling with this recipe next week to improve the sauce, so check back for an updated version.
Quick Paht Thai Noodles: Kwaytiow Paht Thai (adapted from Quick and Easy Thai)
(Serves 2, as long as you’re having another dish)
1/4 lb dried rice noodles, linguine-width
3 TBS vegetable oil
1 TBS coarsely chopped garlic
10 medium shrimp (about 1/2 lb), peeled and deveined
3 TBS fish sauce
2 TBS soy sauce
2 TBS palm sugar (worst case scenario, use dark brown sugar)
1 TSP dried red chili flakes
About 1/4 cup vegetable broth, to prevent noodles from sticking
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup matchstick cut carrots
3 green onions, coarsely chopped (about 1/3 cup)
1 cup fresh bean sprouts
1/4 cup coarsely chopped
2 TBS freshly squeezed lime juice
2 lime wedges
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1. To prepare the dried rice noodles, bring a large saucepan of water to a rolling boil, add the noodles, and remove from heat. Let the noodles steep 5 minutes, and then drain and rinse well in cold water. (You don’t want the noodles to become gummy because the noodles will not hold up to the stir-fry stage of the recipe. After a few minutes of them softening in the water, pick up a noodle and try to wrap it around your finger. If it wraps around your finger, it’s ready to be drained.)
2. Transfer the drained noodles to a medium bowl and place it by the stove, along with a serving platter, a pair of long-handled tongs or a spatula, and a slotted spoon for tossing the noodles. Have all the remaining ingredients ready and handy.
3. In a large, deep skillet or a wok, heat 2 TBS of the oil over medium heat until a bit of garlic sizzles at once when you flick it in the oil. Add the garlic, toss well, and then add the shrimp. Cook about 2 minutes, tossing now and then, until the shrimp are cooked through.
4. Add the noodles and toss as they begin to soften, whiten, and curl in the hot pan. Add the fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar, and chili flakes, and cook 1 to 2 minutes, tossing now and then. Add a splash or two of the vegetable broth to prevent sticking. (Don’t do this step unless the noodles are sticking badly because too much broth will leave thin the sauce.)
5. When the noodles are tender, push them to one side and add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Add the egg, and once it is almost set, scramble it and push it aside. Add the green onions, carrots, and 1/2 cup of the bean sprouts and cook about 1 minute, tossing once or twice, until shiny and beginning to wilt and soften.
6. Sprinkle the cilantro, peanuts, and lime juice over the noodles and then toss to mix everything well. Mound the noodles on a serving platter, arrange the remaining 1/2 cup of bean sprouts and the lime wedges on the side, and serve hot.