Pad Thai

I failed miserably at making this the first time I tried, but after getting some advice as how to keep the noodles from sticking together, my dish turned out much better.

The most difficult part of it all is to get the noodles just right. I failed the first time, succeeded the second time and failed again the third (because of cooking the noodles too long). Pay close attention to the instructions.

If you want vegetarian, substitute tofu cubes for the meat (and egg if you want to go that far) in the ingredients below. However, the fish sauce is a deal-killer if you're strict as it's a crucial flavor component in the dish. In my experience, yellow curry is the only Thai preparation you'll find that is strictly vegetarian- or vegan-possible.

I would not consider the optional garnishes noted below to be optional: the colors really make the dish visually.

Yield

Serves 5-6 people.

Ingredients

noodles soaked 20 minutes in tap hot water (unless fresh)
1-1½ lbs chicken, beef, pork or shrimp
3 large eggs
3 tbsp peanut oil
 
Sauce
2 tbsp shallots, minced (1)
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tbsp tamarind (tamar dhindhi—date of India) paste, reconstitute with ¾ cup hot water
3 tbsp fish sauce
3 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp rice vinegar
¾ tsp cayenne
 
Garnish
1½ cups dry-roasted peanuts coarsely ground
 
Additional, optional garnishes
scallions (green parts)
carrot, julienned (very little)
purple cabbage, finely sliced (very little)
bean (alphalfa) sprouts

Preparation

1. Place noodles in hot water out of the tap—not boiling hot water. The two major problems with the noodles are first, getting them too done and gelatinous, and second, getting them sticking to each other. The second problem is usually solved by the presoak and just adding more water to the wok as instructed below. The first by not over-soaking or over-cooking them.

2. Heat peanut oil very hot in non-stick wok. Add meat and cook. Remove meat, from wok, set aside and wipe clean; Add oil, then lightly cook egg only barely past runny. Set aside.

3. In more oil, sautée shallots, garlic, cayenne, sugar and tamarind (or dates) 1 minute more over medium heat. Add vinegar and fish sauce. Remove from wok to plate with meat and egg.

4. Bring wok back up to very hot. Add noodles, dripping, straight out of water and cook. Place the lid on for a minute if they are still too stiff. Add more water as water reduces if noodles are still stiff or sticking. Cook noodles for about 3 minutes, reducing water nearly to nothing. Add in fish sauce and rice vinegar.

5. Add back the ingredients previously set aside. Add in scallions, carrot and/or cabbage. Toss, but cook hardly at all. Turn out on a platter. Garnish with crushed peanuts.