When SE editor Erin asked me why there had never been a pad Thai in our Dinner Tonight series, I didn't have a straight answer. I just assumed that sometime over the past five years either Blake or I had made one.
Looking to correct this egregious mistake, I searched all over for a quick recipe, but kept running head first into walls. Though quick to prepare, pad Thai recipes can often feature over 20 ingredients—many of which are hard to track down. I tried a succession of shortcut recipes, but I had no less than three fail to live up to my pad Thai standards.
That's when Mark Bittman came in. This recipe from his Minimalist column in the New York Times is by far the best quick version of pad Thai I have been able to find. While it might not hold up to some of the more intense preparations, it's incredibly flavorful and balanced—not too sweet or heavy. I particularly love the addition of the cabbage, which helps bulk things out.
Since Bittman subs honey for the more-difficult-to-find palm sugar, the only ingredient that might take some time finding is the tamarind paste. You can order some online, or you can do what I did and make your own. Regardless, it's absolutely essential, so don't begin without it.
- 4 ounces wide rice stick noodles
- 4 tablespoons peanut oil, divided
- 4 teaspoons tamarind paste
- 1/4 cup fish sauce (nam pla)
- 1/3 cup honey
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup chopped scallions
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 eggs
- 1 small head Napa cabbage, thinly sliced
- 1 cup mung bean sprouts
- 1/2 pound peeled shrimp
- 1/2 cup roasted peanuts, chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- 2 limes, quartered
In a large bowl, add the rice stick noodles and cover with boiling water. Set aside for five minutes until tender but not too soft. Drain in a colander, and then rinse with cold water. Toss with a tablespoon of the oil to keep the noodles from sticking together.
In a medium saucepan, combine the tamarind paste, fish sauce, honey, and rice vinegar. Turn heat to medium-low and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Add the red pepper flakes and turn off the heat. Set aside.
In a large wok or skillet, pour in the remaining three tablespoons of oil and turn the heat to medium-high. When oil starts to shimmer, add the scallions and garlic. Cook until fragrant, about one minute. Crack the eggs in, and let them cook for a few seconds until they start to set. Then scramble them with a wooden spoon. When the eggs are almost cooked, add the cabbage and bean sprouts. Stir well and cook until the cabbage starts to wilt, two to three minutes. Add the shrimp, and cook, stirring occasionally, until they turn pink.
Add the cooked noodles and the sauce to the pan. Stir until everything is combined. Cook until the noodles are once again warm. Turn off the heat.
Divide the pad thai mixture between four plates. Garnish with peanuts and cilantro. Serve with the lime wedges.