*Firstly, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my dear sweet husband who puts up with all my shenanigans! You are the inspiration, motivation and guinea pig for this endeavor, so readers should be grateful to him too. :)*
The past 45 minutes were consumed with straining soaked imli (tamarind root) to make my favorite chutney later. While arching my back to alleviate strain and doing leg lifts to glean some form of physical benefit from spending ALL my time in the kitchen this weekend, I remembered a dish I made a few weeks ago, a most delicious if slightly unauthentic pad thai. Don’t misunderstand, I adore abiding by authentic rules and principles when possible, but I’m not going to go buy fish sauce just to make one dish. My sincerest apologies, but my prevailing sentiment is to adjust when necessary.
In fact, I tinkered quite a bit with this dish (was the paneer not a dead giveaway on that point?), not even going to the lengths that I am for the aforementioned chutney; but that of course is for a sublime dish I’m making for Eid-ul-Fitr, the Islamic holiday that follows Ramadan. More on that dish another time though (forgive me for unabashedly grasping for your anticipation). So no, I used a ready-made tamarind paste for this pad thai which can be bought in most grocery stores I presume (I snagged some from my sister-in-law, score!). And of course, I used Paneer (Indian blocks of cheese) rather than tofu. They have a similar firmness but the husband warrants that paneer soaks in more flavor. Since this would hardly be a dish found on the streets of Bangkok, what harm could arise from a bit more tinkering—and thus was born a quick vegetarian pad thai meant to please with ease… and cheese (Oh Alya, did you actually just say that?!? ).
I found a recipe online and then as usual switched a few things here and there, sometimes out of desire and other times out of necessity (I did not have shallots on hand, so red onion would have to do, for example). It was from Epicurious, but I don’t have the specific recipe on hand at the moment now.
- One box flat rice noodles (pad thai noodles)
- 3 tbsp tamarind paste
- ½ cup light soy sauce
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 2 tbsp Sriracha sauce (hot asian chili sauce… you know the green tipped bottle!)
- 1 medium red onion, sliced
- A bunch of green onions/scallions, chopped
- 4 eggs, lightly scrambled with a pinch of salt
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped (or 2 tsp garlic paste)
- 2 cups bean sprouts (unfortunately I had none this time)
- Roasted peanuts, chopped
- Paneer, diced into cubes
- Red chili powder
This dish is truly fast-paced cooking, so the wisest choice is to get all the ingredients in order first, and a few extra plates or bowls set aside for use once cooking commences. Preliminary steps entail:
- Soak noodles in a bowl of WARM (not hot) water for about 30 minutes. Once softened, drain and place damp paper towel above to keep them soft.
- Create sauce, simply mixing the tamarind paste, soy sauce, brown sugar, and Sriracha sauce until all the sugar has dissolved.
- Chop green onions into thick 1-2 inch pieces.
- Slice the red onion finely
- Season paneer with dash of turmeric and red chili powder
Ahh now the fun begins. Do you have a wok? You can likely ascertain I do not because quite honestly I have a tiny kitchen and any more appliances/pans/fun kitchen-y additions would result in my swimming in metal. Since I do not prefer my items to spill across the floor, I will refrain from acquiring more things… for now.
Anyway, if you have a wok, all the more power to ya but I just used a large large frying pan. Heat a few tbsp of oil in your pan on medium and fry half of the red onion for about 10 minutes until golden brown. Set the onions aside on a paper towel (see, those dishes are going to come in handy, I told you!).
Up next: the eggs. Pour the scrambled eggs in and swirl them around so they thinly coat your cooking vessel. You don’t want thick chunks of scrambled egg but rather silky thin strips. Once fried, remove as well and set aside.
Now take your paneer and begin frying them. I like to cook them until all the sides have crisped up a little bit, allowing the inside to soften up by contrast. The differentiation between the golden skin and soft billowy inside just makes my tongue swoon, but if you prefer them more uniform, just fry them a little bit simply to soften them up and let the spices sink into their skin. Again, once done, remove paneer and set aside on a paper towel.
Now heat the wok/pan up ’til it’s sizzling like the desert sun, and add some more oil, swirling to coat the pan. Stir fry the green onions, remaining red onion, and sliced garlic just until softened (about a minute). Then, add the noodles and stir fry over medium heat for a few minutes. Add the paneer, bean sprouts, and half of the sauce mixture, stirring to coat all the noodles and allowing them to absorb the sauce evenly. Stir until the noodles have completely softened, adding more sauce if desired or necessary (your palette is the ultimate judge of that my friend).
Lastly, toss in the eggs, give it a quick stir and transfer to a serving bowl. Sprinkle with the original fried onions and chopped peanuts. Garnish with some cilantro or extra green onions as well if desired.
The cooking aspect of this dish doesn’t take more than 25 minutes and it’s a non-stop exercise, plus it is best served right off the stove, so take that into consideration when you endeavor to create this delicious alternative to your favorite Thai restaurant. (Alas I’ve yet to find a great one out here, which was what compelled me to do this in the first place. I sincerely hope that is not the case for you—no one should be deprived of the many blessed wonders of Thai food… *sigh*)