My good friend Sarah and I have been taking cooking classes at Sur La Table in Costa Mesa. (Sarah is the pretty lady in the middle holding what is left of a tray of minced chicken lettuce cups). What fun!
Our most recent class was Sur La Table’s “Thai Restaurant Favorites” class. Among other delicious Thai recipes, our excellent teacher, Melody Rodriguez (pictured above in red) , taught us to make Pad Thai.
Pad Thai, if you are unfamiliar with it, is a rice noodle dish that Thailand considers its national dish. Thais are not the only ones in love with Pad Thai. In a 2011 poll, CNN listed Pad Thai as number five among the world’s most delicious foods. (I’m not all together sure about that CNN poll, though. Chocolate was number 25. How could that be?)
The history of Pad Thai is pretty interesting. (I know, I know. I always find history interesting.)
There was a revolution in Thailand (then Siam) in 1932. The absolute monarchy was toppled in favor of a constitutional one backed by a strong military. Field Marshall Plaek Philbunsongkhram became the powerful head of the new Thai government as Prime Minister (read that military dictator). He was determined to stoke Thai nationalism, rush Thailand into the modern age and ensure Thailand’s independence from colonial rule by the West or by China. In the process (and under pressure from Japan), he eventually allied Thailand with the Axis powers during World War II.
In his quest to modernize “Thailand”, Philbunsongkhram (he was known as Phibun, for short) issued twelve cultural edicts. Some of his rules were quirky, Everyone had to wear hats, for example. Thais were instructed to kiss their wives goodbye each morning.
Others of the twelve edicts were right out of the ultra-nationalist playbook of the 1930s. Everyone had to be loyal to the new government. The Thai flag must be revered. There was to be a single national language. People should dress modestly. Everyone needed to eschew foreign products in favor of Thai products.
Foodwise, Phibun’s decrees directed Thais to abandon everything Chinese. Thus, there was a new government-approved slogan: “Noodle is your lunch” and a new government-approved Thai noodle –sen chan rice noodles named for the eastern Chanthanburi province. In no time, a new national dish incorporating those noodles had the government’s blessing. It was Pad Thai and the government subsidized pad Thai food carts to popularize the new dish. The rest is history.
Here is my “take” on the Pad Thai recipe we learned in our Sur La Table class.
Ingredients: Pad Thai
8 oz. Chantaboon rice noodles
1/3 C. peanut or vegetable oil
4 large eggs (beaten)
3 garlic cloves (minced)
2/3 cup Pad Thai Sauce
1 C. fried tofu (cut into 1/4 inch cubes)
4 T. thinly-sliced sweet preserved radish
1/2 C. finely sliced green onion
2 1/2 C. bean sprouts
1/2 C. roasted peanuts (chopped fine)
1 lime (cut into wedges)
Pad Thai Sauce
2/3 C. tamarind concentrate
2/3 C. white vinegar
2/3 C. light soy sauce
1 t. sea salt
1 C. grated palm sugar (or light brown sugar)
3 T. garlic powder
1/8 C. Sriracha chili sauce (or to taste)
For Sauce: Combine tamarind, vinegar, soy sauce, salt, sugar, garlic powder and chili sauce in a saucepan. Boil over medium heat until sauce thickens. This will take approximately 10 minutes.
For Pad Thai:
Soak rice noodles in hot water for 30 minutes or until the noodles are al dente soft. Drain and set aside.
Heat a oil in a wok over high heat. Add eggs and stir fry for about 30 seconds. Add garlic and noodles to eggs. Mix and add 2/3 C. Pad Thai sauce. Simmer noodles in the sauce for one or two minutes until the noodles are cooked. Stir in tofu and radish. (If noodles are not tender enough, you can add water to your pan. ) Add green onions, 2 C. bean sprouts and peanuts and stir. Remove Pad Thai from stove.
Serve pad thai warm or at room temperature on a large plate garnished with bean sprouts, additional chopped green onion, chopped peanuts, and lime wedges.