For me, Pad Thai is the ultimate comfort food (one of 'em anyway): slightly sweet, slightly spicy pan-fried noodles topped with fresh herbs, chopped peanuts, and sliced scallions. And so it was a recent revelation when I discovered that the Pad Thai I'd been making at home outshone that from our favorite take-out place.
Even better is that this recipe isn't difficult. Yes, to be honest, it does take some time and requires some chopping, etc., but for homemade Pad Thai, it's worth it. The good news is that the sauce is made from cupboard/refrigerator staples. So even if you don't have a ton of fresh stuff to go in the Pad Thai, you can still get a bowlful of sweet, spicy noodles on the table. Also, feel free to throw in some sauteed tofu, or gussy it up with more veggies. Whatever you like. Plus, this recipe only has 2 tablespoons of oil, which you're welcome to reduce if you'd like. This way, you get the taste of wonderful Pad Thai without excess oil. Everyone wins!
The recipe I use is one that was inspired by both the Vegetarian Pad Thai recipe from The Best of Vietnamese and Thai Cooking by Mai Pham (her website is here) with the one from Skinny Bitch in the Kitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouian, and harmoniously blends them both. (Links to their books are at the end of this post.) Best of all worlds!
Here's what you need:
-- 8 ounces (1/2 lb.) of rice stick noodles (I get mine at Trader Joe's)
-- 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil (non-flavored) of your choice (refined coconut oil, peanut oil, safflower, etc.)
-- 2 cloves garlic, minced
-- 1/2 red onion, halved and sliced thinly
-- 1 teaspoon Sriracha or ground chili paste
-- 6 tablespoons ketchup
-- 1/4 c. agave nectar (or sugar)
-- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
-- 2/3 c. water
-- 1/2 of a lime
-- 1/4 c. chopped roasted peanuts (omit if you have any nut allergies of course)
-- 3 scallions, sliced thinly on the diagonal
-- Veggie additions (your choice): 1 carrot, shredded; 1 cup bean sprouts; 1 cup shredded purple cabbage, etc.
-- 1/4 c. chopped cilantro (optional)
Here's what you do:
1. Put a saucepan full of water on the stove and bring to a boil. While that is heating, put a clean dishtowel on your counter. (Here's the deal: the noodles will cook for two minutes, and then you'll rinse them well and lay them on the towel to cool while you prepare the other stuff. This is Mai Pham's genius method of blanching the noodles before cooking so that they stay tender and whole and don't get mushy and oily. Love it!) When the water boils, add your noodles, and stir constantly for 2 minutes so that the noodles don't stick. After two minutes of cooking, drain the noodles in a colander, rinse them well under cold water, and then spread them out on the dishtowel. Let 'em chill while you prepare the other ingredients. (And by the way, if you just want to cook the noodles according to package directions, that's fine too. But Mai's method is great!)
2. Mince your garlic, slice your onion and set both aside.
3. In a small bowl, mix ketchup, agave/sugar, soy sauce, water, and the juice from the 1/2 lime.
4. Heat your cooking oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add your garlic, onion, and the Sriracha/chili paste and cook (you'll hear the sizzle) for 30 seconds. Pour in the bowl of sauce ingredients from Step #3. Reduce heat to medium low and cook the sauce, stirring frequently for 5 minutes. You should get some nice bubbling action going, but not major, just a bit. Remember to stir so the sugar doesn't burn.
5. Add your noodles and the chopped peanuts to the sauce, and toss and mix the noodles in the sauce until they're nice and coated. Cook over medium to medium-low heat for 5-7 minutes.
6. Add scallions, and any other veggies your using, and stir until everything is combined and heated through (about a minute).
7. Take your pan off the heat, toss with the chopped cilantro (if using), and serve!
8. Accompany with lemon or lime wedges, and more soy sauce if you like.