It's hard to find a person who doesn't love Thai food. There's something unique about a cuisine that can excellently combine the tastes of salty, sweet, and sour, which makes one's tongue do somersaults of sheer joy. One dish in particular is more popular than ever and that is Pad Thai. It's so good that it's considered the national dish of Thailand. Every time I eat at a Thai restaurant, it seems everyone at my table—and sometimes the entire restaurant—orders it. Even though I try to convince my friends to eat something new, they always go for it. The dish has a comforting allure that's hard to deny.
In Thailand Pad Thai is a favorite street food. Each vendor has their own special recipe, but the main ingredients are almost always the same. There's tamarind for sourness, palm sugar for sweetness, fish sauce for saltines, and bean sprouts for crispiness. The noodles are broad rice noodles and the protein is typically a selection or combination of tofu, shrimp, and/or chicken. For my take on pad Thai, I add cabbage for more crunch and texture and I fry cubes of tofu in addition to shrimp. It's all topped with chopped peanuts, which is a crunchy requirement. The next time when you're in the mood for Pad Thai, why not attempt making this dish at home? With this recipe, anyone can host friends for an evening of Pad Thai.
Pad Thai with Shrimp and Fried Tofu
1 8-ounce package firm tofu, drained and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 ounces rice sticks (banh pho)
3 tablespoons tamarind paste
2 tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla)
2 tablespoons palm sugar or light-brown sugar
1 teaspoon Thai chile powder
canola oil, for stir-frying
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 large eggs
4 scallions, sliced on the bias
1 small head Napa cabbage, shredded
3 cups bean sprouts
1/2 cup chopped roasted peanuts, for serving
lime wedges, for serving
sliced scallions, for garnish
cilantro sprigs, for garnish
Place tofu cubes on a plate lined with paper towels. Top with paper towels and another plate. Weigh down with additional plates. Repeat pressings two more times with fresh paper towels until tofu releases almost no liquid.
Add rice sticks to a bowl and cover with 5 cups boiling water. Soak, submerged with a small plate, for 7 minutes. Drain pasta.
Combine tamarind paste, fish sauce, sugar, and chile powder in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer until sugar is dissolved.
Warm about 1/2-inch oil in a well-seasoned wok or large nonstick sauté pan set over medium-high to high heat. Add tofu and fry until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Drain on a tray lined with paper towels. Pour out oil and wipe out wok.
Add fresh oil to wok. Add garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Add shrimp and cook until pink, about 3 minutes. Remove to a plate.
Refresh oil. Add eggs and stir to scramble until done. Add scallions, cabbage, and bean sprouts; sauté until cabbage wilts, about 3 minutes. Add fried tofu, cooked shrimp, and drained rice sticks. Pour in sauce mixture. Toss to combine and simmer until noodles absorb sauce. Serve immediately with chopped peanuts and wedges of lime. Garnish with sliced scallions and sprigs of cilantro. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.