People are always asking me to list my go-to recipes, the dishes I might whip up to appease a hungry multitude without the luxury of a days notice. I usually tell them, “you name it and I’ll give it a shot”. My methods for menu creation are largely driven by the scraps I discover in the bowels of my cupboard or fridge. My grocery-buying habits play a large role as well, since my cravings for various cultural sundries span the globe more thoroughly than even Tiki Gelana could imagine.
So if I were to compose some dishes based on what I had in stock, it might go something like this…
Arugula, tomato, red onion, avocado, cucumber and radish with an Italian inspired herbed mustard vinaigrette. Buttered crouton and toasted almonds as an accompaniment. My wife and myself have spent many nights creating dressings to compliment the produce we’ve got on hand. It’s true what they say about salad dressing creation being the key to a happy family life.
A main course you can either:
a. Eat out of a bowl or
b. Eat out of a really big bowl enough to feed four or more
Pad Thai fits that description nicely. Ask me for the ingredients for an authentic version and I could make a semi-educated guess. I think I make really good Pad Thai. Let me rephrase that. Whatever it is that I call Pad Thai is really really good. There’s a sauce that you use in the Pad Thai. I know not of its name. I call it Pad Thai sauce.
I’ll make a dessert as long as the dishes aren’t already overflowing out of the sink. If they are and I’m too tired, ice cream is always a 5 minute drive down the street. But the two desserts I can easily compose with ingredients which I always have on hand and I bet you do too, is creme brûlée and chocolate ganache cake. Seriously, for the cake you need like 3 ingredients. Chocolate, butter, sugar, flour, eggs, salt and a muffin pan. That’s 3 ingredients right? Oh, and an oven. (Editors note. Pretty much the same things you would need to make a chocolate soufflé, just using a different method. Sometimes you accidentally mix up the two and you make a delicious monstrous concoction.)
As for my version of Pad Thai, here’s the instruction manual to guide you through the vermicelli jungle. Don’t be intimidated, they’re just noodles, it’s not like you’re facing the Khmer Rouge or anything.
Ingredients: Serves 4-6
Pad Thai Sauce (it’s a little spicy)
- 4 cloves garlic chopped
- 1 tbsp minced ginger
- 2 tbsp sesame oil
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar
- 2 tbsp pickled chilies
- 1 tbsp chili paste
Heat small sauce to medium
Add oil. Add garlic and ginger and stir occasionally for two minutes. Add remaining ingredients and cook for five minutes. Lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until sauce has reduced by half. Set aside. You don’t have to use all of these components if you wish not to search them out. If you don’t want it too hot, omit the pickled chilies…wuss.
For the Pad Thai itself.
- 2 tbsp light brown sugar
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 3 gloves of garlic roughly chopped
- 1 tsp minced ginger
- Juice of 1 lime.
Combine all together until sugar dissolves, then add 2 lbs of peeled and de-veined large/jumbo shrimp. Toss shrimp in marinade, then cover with plastic wrap. Let sit for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours in the refrigerator.
Chopping vegetables and assorted herbs:
- 1/2 head of cabbage finely chopped lengthwise
- 1 red onion halved and chopped lengthwise
- 2 carrots julienned
- 1 red pepper julienned
- 1 large cucumber julienned
- 1 small daikon radish julienned
- 1 container of bean sprouts
- Bunch of Thai basil
- Bunch of mint
- Bunch of culantro or cilantro
- 2 limes cut into wedges
- 1/2 cup roasted unsalted peanuts.
- Fried shallot
Place each individually in its own serving bowl and set aside until serving time.
Take one package of small rice vermicelli noodles and place them in a large bowl of warm water for 10-12 minutes until softened. It might not seem like this amount will serve a good number of people but once the noodles are submerged in the warm water, they will multiply more so than Michael Keaton characters from the mid 90’s.
Heat large sauté pan or wok on med-high heat. Add sesame oil. Place cabbage, onion, carrot and pepper and cook until they begin to soften but are still crunchy. About 3-4 minutes.
Remove from heat. Turn heat to high. Remove shrimp from refrigerator and place in pan about 10 at a time. Don’t put too many in at once since they will give off a little liquid. If you overcrowd the pan they won’t get a good color. Cook for about 1-1 1/2 minutes per side. Once they are all cooked, set aside in a bowl. Lower heat to medium.
Strain noodles from water and place in pan along with the cooked vegetables and half of the Pad Thai sauce. Toss for about two minutes. Place into large serving vessel and add cooked shrimp. Add more sauce if desired. Serve alongside garnishes of raw vegetables, herbs, fried shallots and peanuts.
That’s about four steps to make this great meal. I love this recipe most because of the bold flavors of course, but also because of how wonderful it looks once you have put it all together. It’s a very visually appealing dish because of all the vibrant and contrasting colors. For a split second you might not want to ruin this masterpiece due to it’s shear beauty. Then reality kicks in and you will destroy everything in your path to get just one taste.
I’m not saying you need everything listed here to make this great. Believe me, I’ve made an amazing version of this with just a handful of items. This is however the culmination of what I consider to be the best of what a great Pad Thai may or may not entirely be. Hope you guys have fun creating this as well your own go-to dishes.