Totally ubiquitous (and often underwhelming) in Thai restaurants, Pad Thai is a near universal crowd-pleaser that most of us don’t bother to make at home. The biggest hurdle (and it’s really just a matter of going shopping) is collecting the ingredients that you probably don’t have on hand, like rice stick noodles and tamarind paste. Beyond that, it’s just a simple stir-fry that requires little more than chopping and stirring (and you don’t even have to boil the noodles; you just soak them in hot water). (Click here if you want to see a video of how it’s made.)
4 ounces fettuccine-width rice stick noodles
¼ cup peanut oil
1 to 4 tablespoons tamarind paste
¼ cup fish sauce (nam pla)
⅓ cup honey
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
¼ cup chopped scallions
1 garlic clove, minced
1 small head Napa cabbage, shredded (about 4 cups)
1 cup mung bean sprouts
½ pound peeled shrimp, pressed tofu or a combination
½ cup roasted peanuts, chopped
¼ 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 1 tablespoon tamarind paste, fish sauce, honey and vinegar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and bring just to a simmer. Taste and add more tamarind paste if desired. It should be piquant, but not unpleasantly sour. 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.