Tuesday, March 23, 2010
A couple of weeks ago I went to a Thai cooking course . . . and it was good fun . . . but I couldn't help but realize, about half-way through the class, that it wasn't going to lead to recipes that I could make for dinner. First of all, it involved lots of chopping and lots of ingredients that I wasn't likely to have on hand -- not great for those evenings when I have a late pick-up from school. These are minor problems, though, compared to the eating prohibitions imposed by my family. My husband doesn't like curry, coconut milk (for health reasons) or spicy things; my daughter doesn't like any kind of seafood.
I love those Thai flavors, though. Peanuts. Lemongrass. Coriander. Ginger.
Even though I want to abandon the typical winter fare, our weather isn't really cooperating. In late March in England, it's still cold and wet and there's not any exciting seasonal produce, either. Somehow, the spicy, aromatic, fresh tastes of Thai food seem just-right to me right now.
The one thing that everyone in my family loves is noodles, so I have been concentrating all of my efforts on perfecting my Pad Thai recipe. It is quick to make, delicious to eat, and has just enough flavor to please me -- but not enough to put off the rest of my family. Pad Thai, like any kind of stir fried dish, is really just a blueprint . . . and I have experimented a lot with this recipe. I started off using rice noodles, which are thin and brittle and must be soaked for an hour before you stir-fry them. They burn very easily, though, and absorb lots of oil; so after some trial and error, I decided that ribbon noodles were a much better deal. (I buy a brand called Sharwood's Thai ribbon noodles, and they can be found in my usual grocery store.) After five or six attempts at this dish, this is the version we've liked the best, but it can certainly be altered to suit your own taste. If you like more bite, you could add some diced red or green chilli peppers. Shrimp is good with it, too.
shallot or small red onion
garlic -- one or two cloves
a knob of grated or chopped ginger
a couple of tablespoons of groundnut (or vegetable) oil
thinly sliced red pepper
a couple of handfuls of bean sprouts
4 to 6 ounces of cooked chicken
a 300 gram/12 ounce package of ribbon noodles
one egg, lightly beaten
chopped coriander (or cilantro, if you are in the U.S.)
two tablespoons of fish sauce
juice from a lime
one tablespoon of sugar
one tablespoon of tamarind sauce
one tablespoon of smooth peanut butter
a handful of salted peanuts
Assemble the ingredients for the sauce in a dish and gently warm -- just enough so the peanut butter will amalgamate with the rest of the ingredients.
Chop/dice all of the vegetables and the chicken. You want to have everything ready before you begin, because it will only take about 5 minutes to cook this dish.
Heat the oil in a large nonstick saucepan or wok until warm, but not sputtering. You want to GENTLY cook the shallot (or red onion). As it begins to soften, add the chopped garlic and ginger. Cook for just a minute, and then add the red pepper and the noodles. (Note: you may need to pull apart the noodles with your thumb and fingers.) Stir quickly, until the noodle mixture is evenly coated with the oil -- and then add a lightly beaten egg (or two) to a clean section of the pan. As soon as it is just scrambled, lightly incorporate the egg into the rest of the dish and add the bean sprouts and the chicken. Finally, add the sauce and toss until evenly coated.
To serve, toss with a handful of peanuts and chopped coriander (or cilantro).
This serves two, but you can easily double it.