This is the dish I turn to when I need some Thai comfort food. I’ve adapted it from Chez Pim’s recipe from years ago. It was the first pad thai recipe I tried that actually worked for me and so I’ve kept it as part of my regular arsenal and whip it out when cooking for a group.
Though with a really large skillet or a wok you can cook all of it in one go, it’s best cooked in batches, just enough for one or two people at a time, so everything cooks evenly. That also makes it more fun to do when you’ve got a whole bunch of hungry people in the kitchen waiting for their turn to cook and/or eat.
1 package rice noodles (the flat kind, about 1/2 to 1-cm wide)
Half of a 1-pound block of tofu
a 2 x 2 inch square of tamarind paste (from a block), soaked in 1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup shaved Thai palm sugar, or brown sugar, or to taste
1/2 cup fish sauce, or to taste, plus more for serving
1 tablespoon Thai chili powder (or regular chili powder), or to taste, plus more for serving
Canola or other vegetable oil for frying
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 large eggs, beaten with a couple of pinches salt
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined if you like (can use fresh or frozen here — thaw frozen shrimp in cool water an hour or so before cooking)
4 cups mung bean sprouts, rinsed (tailed if want and/or you have the time)
1 bunch garlic chives, cut into 2-inch pieces (chives and/or scallions will do as well)
Water in a large measuring cup, to add as necessary while cooking
chopped roasted unsalted peanuts, to top finished dish
roughly chopped cilantro for serving
lime wedges for serving
In a large bowl, soak noodles in water to cover, about 30 minutes or until pliable (but take note, you don’t want it too soft as it still has to cook in the wok, so drain and set aside if it takes you longer to prepare the rest of the ingredients).
Put the tofu block down in a colander set on a plate (to catch liquid), and weight it with another plate plus something heavy like canned beans (I like using my marble mortar). Set tofu aside while preparing the other ingredients.
With a fork or mashing tool, break tamarind paste apart in the water; stir well. Pour into a saucepan through a sieve, pressing well on the solids. Discard seeds and any fibrous material. Add fish sauce, palm sugar and chili powder to tamarind water and whisk gently over low heat until well blended. Keep warm while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Cut the tofu into 1/2″ x 1 1/2″ “sticks”.
Drain the noodles.
Taste the sauce and adjust if needed — you want a balance of hot, sour, salty and sweet.
When all ingredients are ready, set them in an area within easy reach of the stove. Set your sauce pot with a ladle on another burner over lowest heat. You’ll have to work fast so keeping things near is essential.
Ready? Let’s go.
Heat your wok or other large skillet over high heat. Pour a couple of tablespoons oil into the wok. Add some garlic, stir fry for a few seconds, and then the tofu. Stir fry a minute or so, then add a large handful of the noodles, and a ladle of the sauce. Stir the noodles around several minutes or until noodles are soft but not mushy — add a bit more sauce and/or water if things are getting a little too dry, a bit more oil if you think it’s necessary.
Push noodles to the side and pour a bit of the egg in. Let set for a bit, break up the omelet roughly, then give everything a nice toss. Add several pieces of shrimp and a handful of bean sprouts plus some garlic chives and stir, stir, stir, until shrimp turns color. Add a bit more sauce if things are looking a little too dry. Toss one more time. The noodles and shrimp should be done at this point.
Transfer to a plate, sprinkle with cilantro and serve with the chopped peanuts, as well as lime wedges, additional chili powder, and additional fish sauce for diners to adjust seasonings at the table if desired.
The peanuts could be added into the wok when the bean sprouts are added. However, since some of our family members have peanut allergies we keep the peanuts separate and let people add them to their serving.
Wash your wok out quickly with hot water, heat and repeat, until everything is cooked and everyone is happy. Enjoy!