I know, I know. This is a blog about Southern food and I am going to talk to you about Pad Thai. Some people think all we eat down here are collard greens, fried fish and macaroni and cheese. But we do go out to eat once in a blue moon, you know. And for some reason that I’m not entirely sure of, immigrants from other countries have found their way to Nashville and they have brought their food with them, thank goodness. I can tell you when we moved here in 1993, it was a dry and dusty food landscape. Now we have Vietnamese and Cuban and Ethiopian and, thank the Lord, Thai.
So, driving home from Knoxville after dropping Noah off to college, I got caught up on my food podcasts and there was Mark Bittman from the New York Times whipping up a batch of Pad Thai, which is basically the national dish of Thailand. And not to be indelicate, but Mark and I had packed away the Metts and Beans and cheeseburgers for a bit too long and we needed something just a tad lighter.
So here it is and I can report to you that it was pretty darn delicious. Now I know there are going to be two questions you will have when you read the recipe. Where do I get tamarind paste and why would I even buy fish sauce? You get the tamarind paste at an Asian market. It’s like buying ketchup. No big deal. And you want the fish sauce. It’s that taste you get when you eat Thai or Vietnamese food that makes you go, “yum.”
Mark Bittman’s Pad Thai
4 ounces fettuccine-width rice stick noodles
1/4 cup peanut oil
2 to 4 tablespoons tamarind paste
1/4 cup fish sauce (nam pla)
1/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1 garlic clove, minced
1 small head Napa cabbage, shredded (about 4 cups)
1 cup mung bean sprouts
1/2 pound peeled shrimp, pressed tofu or a combination
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 limes, quartered.
1. Put noodles in a large bowl and add boiling water to cover. Let sit until noodles are just tender; check every 5 minutes or so to make sure they do not get too soft. Drain, drizzle with one tablespoon peanut oil to keep from sticking and set aside. Meanwhile, put tamarind paste, fish sauce, honey and vinegar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and bring just to a simmer. Stir in red pepper flakes and set aside.
2. Put remaining 3 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; when oil shimmers, add scallions and garlic and cook for about a minute. Add eggs to pan; once they begin to set, scramble them until just done. Add cabbage and bean sprouts and continue to cook until cabbage begins to wilt, then add shrimp or tofu (or both).
3. When shrimp begin to turn pink and tofu begins to brown, add drained noodles to pan along with sauce. Toss everything together to coat with tamarind sauce and combine well. When noodles are warmed through, serve, sprinkling each dish with peanuts and garnishing with cilantro and lime wedges.
Yield: 4 servings.