Sydney is to Thai restaurants what New York City is to hot dog stands. They’re everywhere.
Though we’ve scoured the city for the best, our personal favorite, our answer to most no-one-wants-to-cook nights, is still the first one we tried, a stone’s throw away. But just because we have a ridiculous amount of good Thai food at our doorstep doesn’t mean I sometimes get the craving to make it at home.
I’d never actually indulged in this craving until last night. And it took some planning. You see, my pantry (and by pantry I mean tiny cupboard) wasn’t exactly equipped for anything vaguely – and I apologize in advance if you find this termination offensive – ethnic. Besides some curry powder, Yemenite Hawiage and a bottle of sesame oil, almost everything in my kitchen screams I AM OF EUROPEAN DESCENT. I mean, just look at what I’ve cooked in the last few months! By far the most unusual thing – Dutch stamppot – is probably one of the most historically traditional European dishes.
This undeniable undisturbed devotion to classically western dishes had to stop.
Enter: pad thai.
As I mentioned, I had to plan. I had to buy tamarind paste, rice noodles and fish sauce. I decided to add broccoli, cabbage, shrimp and tofu (house guest’s last and very appreciated gift that was still in the fridge). I went to Chinatown to get scallions and bean sprouts (and, in the process, came away with some delightfully pink pickled ginger and other goodies that I will probably never use).
After first getting inspired by Mark Bittman’s recipe in The New York Times, and then getting discouraged by the comments section, I scoured the internet for something to work with.
I ended up scribbling down a whole host of different things in my (probably by now recognizable) shorthand, and went to work. After all that planning, the dish came together remarkably quickly. And though I most certainly made something that would not resemble pad thai to any self-respecting Thai or world traveler, it was good enough for us.
Thankfully, as long as you stick to certain basics – like the use of fish sauce, tamarind and rice noodles – pad thai seems to be pretty forgiving. Below you’ll find my very approximate take on this classic Thai delight. And while it’s not exactly a New York hot dog, if you know what I mean, it’s a step in the right direction.
When you begin to make this recipe, you want to have all your ingredients measured, cut and ready to go. Once everything is chopped and prepared, things move very quickly.
Use this recipe as a starting off point, adjusting the vegetables/proteins to your taste. Vegetarians: leave out the shrimp; carnivores: add chicken, beef or pork. For extra spice, serve with chili sauce (mmm).
250 grams (8 ounces) rice noodles (the shape of linguini only translucent)
1/4 cup oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup fish sauce (plus more for serving)
3 tablespoons tamarind paste
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
1/4 cup ground peanuts
250 grams (1/2 lb) raw shrimp, peeled
1 package pressed or very firm tofu, diced (optional)
1 small head broccoli, cut into florets (optional)
1/2 head cabbage, chopped finely (optional)
1 cup bean sprouts
1/2 cup scallions, diced
1 or 2 eggs
cilantro leaves (optional)
lime, sliced into wedges
Begin by soaking the rice noodles in a large bowl of warm water for at least 10 minutes or until they are tender. Chop and prep your vegetables, and measure out all other ingredients.
In a small bowl, make the sauce by whisking together the fish sauce (stinky but delicious!), tamarind and sugar. (You may also want to add lemon juice.)
In a wok or a large pan heat the oil over high heat, then add the garlic and chili flakes, tofu and half the peanuts, stirring until the tofu is browning slightly (add any meat at this point). After a minute or two, add broccoli and cabbage or any crunchy vegetable you may be using, stirring constantly. Also add half the bean sprouts and half the scallions. After a minute or so, add the shrimp.
After another minute, when shrimp are just beginning to get pink, drain the noodles and add them to the pan, stirring constantly to keep everything from sticking. Add all the sauce ingredients to the pan, stirring, then push everything in the pan to one side and break the eggs into the bottom of the pan, using the spoon to scramble. When the egg is nearly cooked, fold it into the noodles and add remaining bean sprouts.
Serve on 4 individual plates. Top each plate with the remaining scallions, ground peanuts and cilantro leaves if desired. Squeeze a lime wedge over each plate.
Serve fish sauce, chili sauce and extra lime wedges on the table.