It took me too long to start cooking this easy Pad Thai recipe on any kind of regular basis. I have lots of excuses, but you won’t need any of them.
At the risk of putting too much pressure on a simple takeout dish, Pad Thai is my barometer for some pretty important things. (Okay, let me just stop and say that I did not intend to make that pun, but I’m really very happy with it.) In my 20s I ate plenty of good NYC-area restaurant Pad Thai, but my attempts to make it at home were not all that successful.
Why, what were you doing with your spare time in your 20s?
I can’t remember for sure, but think it was hard to get my hands on at least one of the following: tamarind paste, a decent gas burner for stir-frying, the confidence to cook the comfort food of a culture I don’t know all that well.
Well. I can’t account for my current cultural overreaching (though here’s a great, informative article on Pad Thai’s origins and influence), but the rest of those excuses have dissolved. Tamarind paste, along with everything else in the world, is easy to get your hands on now, and I have a gas stove but also know for sure that I don’t really need it for a simple dish like this one. Being 40 isn’t perfect, but there’s not a lot of bullshit left, and that’s grand.
It’s easy to be down on America these days, but at the same time it’s hard to browse Amazon or walk into the prepared foods section of a high-end supermarket without feeling awed by the sheer abundance of it all. When I set out to make Pad Thai now, it’s impossible not to see how far we’ve come in the past 20 years, at least in a few select ways. (And maybe, alas, for a few select people.) Rice noodles, tamarind paste, fish sauce, chilis. Multiple options, sometimes too many, all right there for the taking. It’s astonishing.
Okay, that and a big bowl of Pad Thai is all for today. Talk to you soon.
Easy Pad Thai Recipe
- 8 ounces stir-fry rice noodles
- 3 tablespoons neutral oil (such as safflower), divided
- 1 shallot, minced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup Asian fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 tablespoon tamarind paste
- Big pinch red pepper flakes
- 8 ounces small shrimp
- 3 ounces baked tofu, diced
- 2 cups mung bean sprouts
- 2 eggs
- 3 scallions, sliced
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 1/2 cup chopped roasted peanuts
- Lime wedges
- Sriracha, for serving
Place noodles in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Let sit for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Prepare the rest of the ingredients while the noodles soften.
In a small bowl, stir together the fish sauce, brown sugar, rice vinegar, lime juice, tamarind paste and red pepper flakes.
Heat two tablespoons of the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high. Add shallot and garlic and stir-fry for about two minutes, until very fragrant. Add shrimp and cook, stirring only once or twice, until just opaque, a couple of minutes. Drain noodles and add to pan with some water still clinging to them. Pour in sauce and cook, stirring frequently, until noodles are tender and sauce has thickened enough to cling to noodles without any excess liquid in the pan. Stir in tofu and bean sprouts. Push the pad thai to one side of the pan.
In the empty side of the pan, heat the remaining tablespoon oil and crack in the eggs. Break the yolks but otherwise leave eggs to set on the bottom. After a minute or two, scramble the eggs a bit to just cook through, leaving whites and yolks distinct. As soon as eggs are cooked, remove pan from heat and stir eggs into noodle mixture. Stir in scallions, cilantro and peanuts, reserving some to garnish if you like. Divide among shallow bowls and serve with lime wedges and sriracha.