As a good and honourable citizen of the world is my duty to warn you that this dish stinks. Treat the cooking of Pad Thai as you would a paint job - wear clothes you don't mind ruining, and make sure there's a steady flow of air throughout the process. Make this if you don't mind the distinct smell of cat piss wafting from your kitchen. Make this if you have been coerced into a date with Mick Hucknell; I can assure you it will end as soon as it begins. What Mick never stayed long enough to find out is that tofu is delicious when treated with respect, and that peanuts, tamarind, shrimp paste and noodles are a match made in heaven.
I love how the flavour profile of pad thai is very unique. This is particularly a result of the tamarind, coriander, peanuts and fish sauce. So, admittedly, this recipe isn't 100% vegetarian friendly. Although as a strict veggie in the past I substituted fish sauce for soy sauce or a bit of stock, I quote one brutally honest pad-thai fanatic: "Usually I just leave it [fish sauce] out, but then the meal comes out less than spectacular". And you don't want that, now do you?
I am sick to the back teeth of all the slack tofu gets. People who denounce it have obviously not cooked it right. Or they have assumed that it is similar to meat in that, sometimes, the flavour provided from meat is enough. Treat tofu like a sponge, a canvas which takes on the flavours you add to it. Here, I didn't bother to soak the tofu like some people do; instead I fried it briefly with ginger, for crispness and colour, then tossed in some soy sauce. Very quick, and it produces a thin crust while maintaining a beautifully silky and soft texture inside. And you get flavour, so you have no excuse not to try it out!
As for that god-awful stench which will emit from your clothes, the carpets and everything else for a day or two, this is the addition of shrimp paste. The fermented fish in the fish sauce lends a bit of an odour, but a whiff from that little pot of shrimp paste is enough to put you off cooking Pad Thai forever. Your nose deceives you! My housemate thought I was using animal excrement in my cooking; I still forced it down him because this dish is worth it - not only my opinion, but the general consensus among my family and friends.
There are a few more ingredients which I could have added which I believe are used in traditional Pad Thai, but Morecambe is the last place to shope for them; it's pretty lacking in culture. I retract that statement; everywhere has some kind of culture. What I mean to say is that Morecambe residents haven't really taken to the products of other cultures. So there are zero international food shops. I receive a big, blank look at the supermarkets when asking if they sell tofu. So pickled radishes and chinese chives are definite no's. Also if you can buy tamarind in its dried-fruit-block form, that is absolutely preferable to the paste. But, again, that's not a possibility in the north. My last block lasted me four years without going off, and probably would have extended it's shelf live if someone hadn't thrown it out for reasons unbeknown to me. Grrr.
My version here uses tofu, but I've also used prawns, or better, a mix of both. It also serves six people, but is easily divideable if you want to make less.
TOFU PAD THAI
2 tbsp tamarind paste
4-5 tbsp grated palm sugar/brown sugar
1/2 cup fish sauce
Chilli sauce, to taste
600g cooked rice noodles or 300g uncooked (preferably 'ribbon noodles')
2 tbsp oil
400g firm tofu, drained
2 tbsp soy sauce
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsp dried shrimp paste
5cm piece ginger, grated
3 carrots, cut into smallish matchsticks
4 eggs, beaten lightly
500g bean sprouts
6 spring onions, sliced finely
One large bunch coriander, coarsely chopped
80g roughly chopped, unsalted peanuts (if salted nuts are cheaper to purchase, see below)
2 limes, quartered
1. Mix the first four ingredients together for the sauce.
2. If using dried noodles, follow the instructions on the packet, and cook until al-dente.
3. In a large wok, add one tbsp oil and heat. Add tofu, and fry on a high heat until golden on the sides. Toss in soy sauce and ginger, and continue to fry for a minute.
3. In a large wok, add oil and heat. Add garlic and shrimp paste, and fry until fragrant. Add the carrot and fry for a minute. Mix in the noodles and tamarind sauce, then push to the side. Add egg, and stir fry until the egg just sets. Add bean sprouts and half of the spring onions. Toss gently until combined.
4. Just before serving, toss in the coriander, chopped nuts and green onion. Divide between the plates, and garnish with a lime wedge.
If using salted nuts: Give them a rinse to get rid of the salt, then heat on the stove for a few minutes until dry and they start to roast a bit.