I am totally hopeless at following recipes. I am always changing this and adding that, giving it my own ‘flare’, if you will. When you’ve been cooking for a while, you know what flavour combinations work and start cooking with feeling, rather than strictly following what’s written down in front of you. This method of cooking generally works well for me. Except when it comes to cooking Asian food.
Kristian and I absolutely LOVE Asian cuisine, everything from Indian to Japanese. But whenever I try and recreate that awesome curry or try my hand at whipping up a tasty noodle dish I usually end up with something totally different from what it should have been. Although still really delicious it becomes an amalgamation of Western and Asian ingredients and ends up being totally unauthentic and very un-Asian.
I realised that as I am unfamiliar with many Asian ingredients, I find it difficult to identify what a dish is lacking. Should I add more fish sauce? Does it need a bit more curry paste? As soon as I alter a recipe by adding a bit extra of this or that or swapping or leaving an ingredient out altogether I can’t rectify the situation. It then becomes ‘Char Kway Teow Lana style’ aka- not Char Kway Teow at all (I really thought it would work without the Chinese sausage and fish cakes, what was I thinking?)
Last week at the Borough Market Kristian and I watched an amazing Pad Thai being thrown together with such ease right in front of our eyes. A bit of this, a few drops of that, toss the noodles in and voila, you have Pad Thai. It looked painfully simple. I was inspired to master one of our favourite Asian noodle dishes.
After a bit of research online (a Google search of ‘Best Thai food blogs) I came across a recipe from ‘She Simmers’ a wonderful blog from Leela Punyaratabandhu . I’m not going to lie, I was a little nervous when looking at the ingredient list. There were some items that I had never used, or even seen before. But I wasn’t going to make the same mistake I usually do and leave out or swap ingredients. For once, I intended to follow the recipe, precisely.
Off we went to a Thai supermarket in Notting Hill to track down these wonderful ingredients. Kristian and I were in our element and spent over an hour walking around the store trying to find what we needed whilst admiring these wonderful Thai food items. With a bag full of hope, we headed home.
After a few hours of soaking and squeezing and measuring and weighing and chopping and cooking we sat down to the table, exchanging nervous but optimistic glances. After twirling some golden coloured noodles around our forks we took our first bite.
Let’s just say that we won’t need to order in Pad Thai anymore. Win.
Now, before I give you the recipe, there are a few important things to note.
There are a few elements to a good Pad Thai. I’m not going to bother relisting them here because Leela does an amazing job on her blog. She has written a five part 'series' on Pad Thai. The link to 'Part One' is here. You can find part two to five on the same site. I highly recommend having a read.
I know the following recipe may seem daunting. There are quite a few ingredients and a few elements to this dish, but it really is simple. Just stick to the recipe and you will be fine.
I slightly adapted the original recipe to suit my own tastes. Although the original recipe from Leela is sublime, I added slightly less Pad Thai sauce, as it was a little too rich for my taste. You really can add as much or as little as you like depending on your own taste. There were also a couple of things I left out (I know I said I wouldn’t, but I couldn’t help myself) and it was still totally delicious and very authentic tasting.
I made my own Tamarind Paste, as suggested by Leela. It is really simple to do and I would highly recommend it. You will have to do this first, before you start on the Pad Thai sauce.
The Pad Thai sauce recipe I have listed here makes about 2 cups. You won't need it all but you can keep it in a jar in the refrigerator or freeze it into portions to use at a later stage.
For the Tamarind Paste:
200g Tamarind pods
200ml tepid water
Place the tamarind pods and water in a medium bowl. Break up the tamarind slightly with a spoon.
Leave to soak for 15-20 minutes, until it has softened.
Take handfuls of the softened tamarind and squeeze the pulp out into a clean bowl, discarding the membranes and veins of the fruit.
You should be left with a very thick puree.
For the Pad Thai sauce: (Makes 2 cups)
180g fish sauce
226g palm sugar, grated
60g brown sugar
150g tamarind pulp
Place all ingredients in a medium sized saucepan and cook over medium heat until sugar is dissolved.
Don’t bring it to a boil or reduce it as it is already a very thick sauce.
Store in a jar in the fridge or freeze into portions for later use.
¼ cup vegetable oil
115g rice noodles, 3mm wide
100ml Pad Thai sauce (recipe above)
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 medium shallot, peeled and finely diced
24g finely chopped sweet preserved radishes (sometimes called preserved turnips)
100g the firmest tofu you can find
8-10 medium sized prawns, peeled and deveined (optional)
2 large eggs, cracked into a bowl
6-7 stalks Chinese chives
110g bean sprouts
Dried red chilli flakes
Dry roasted peanuts, finely chopped
A few wedges of fresh lime
Chinese chive stalks
1. The first thing you need to do is soak your noodles. In a medium bowl, place the noodles. Cover the noodles with room temperature water. Let them soak for 40-50 minutes, until they are pliable, but still slightly firm. DO NOT soak in hot or boiling water, as this will make your noodles soggy.
2. Chop the stalks of the chives into 2cm pieces. Set aside the bottom part of the stalks.
3. Heat a medium sized (approx. 40cm) pan over a high heat. Add half of the oil.
4. Add the soaked noodles, followed by the Pad Thai sauce. Toss the noodles around the pan using two spatulas or wooden spoons. Keep the noodles moving at all times as you don’t want them to burn or stick.
5. After one or two minutes, the noodles should have softened. Push them to the side of the pan.
6. Add the rest of the oil and toss in the garlic, shallot, preserved radish, tofu and prawns (if using). Constantly stir the ingredients to ensure nothing burns. Make sure you keep the noodles moving.
7. Once the prawns are three quarters cooked (they should be turning a pinkish colour) make a well in the centre of the pan and pour in the egg.
8. Scramble the egg up with your spatula or spoon. Let it cook and brown a little on one side before turning it over and letting it brown on the other side. Make sure you continue tossing around the other ingredients.
9. Once your egg, prawns and noodles are cooked and the other ingredients have coloured slightly, take the pan off the heat.
10. Add the chopped chives and bean sprouts and toss everything together.
11. Serve the Pad Thai with a sprinkling of chilli flakes, a large spoonful of chopped peanuts, some lime wedges and the chive stalks.
Recipe ever so slightly adapted from shesimmers.com