Easy breezy pad thai

I have always had a love-hate relationship with pad thai. I ate pad thai for the very first time at a Thai restaurant in San Diego. An evening dinner out on a student budget used to be a huge treat then! A group of us had once visited a decently good Thai place which was bus-accessible (bus-accessibility was a must for any outing!). As it was our very first Thai experience, we had pretty much asked the waitress to order the menu for us and she had suggested a spicy pad thai followed by some sweet coconut ice-cream! I absolutely loved the flat rice noodles drenched in a tangy, hot and sweet sauce and crunchy peanuts on top.

Over the time though I realized that a good pad thai is not easy to come by. Many times either the sauce is too strong or the whole dish is soggy or oily! After a few unfortunate encounters with pad thai I eventually changed my thai restaurant go-to dish from pad thai to a green curry dish which probabilistically is always decent.

But the cravings for a good pad thai won't stop! Then recently I came across this Mark Bittman's minimalist column urging people to think about pad thai as a make-at-home option and I wondered why I never thought about making pad thai at home. Strange how sometimes in your mind some dishes just get so associated with restaurants that you don't ever think of making them at home! The recipe seemed easy enough, was uber-flexible and luckily I had all the ingredients at hand (thanks to my new work route which is en-route an ever-inviting asian store).
I made this dish on a weekday evening. It came together fairly quickly. You make the sauce (which is just putting things together in a bowl), soak the noodles in hot water and meanwhile stir fry the ingredients and bring everything together in a wok. Easy breezy!

The pad thai was extremely tasty. My husband and I enjoyed it with some hot peach flavored tea which was a most flavorful gift from a grad-school friend. All-in-all a pad thai dinner well-served at last!

Source: adapted from here
makes 3 medium servings or 4 small servings
8ounces flat rice noodles

Sauce (adjust according to taste):
4Tbsp tamarind paste (taste your tamarind paste; every one is different. If its very tart, use less to begin with and then add more as you go. For 8ounces noodles, I needed 4Tbsp Joy tamarind concentrate)
3Tbsp rice wine vinegar
4Tbsp sugar
3Tbsp fish sauce
3/4C warm water

2 cloves of garlic - minced
14oz extra firm tofu
4 bok choy or some chopped chinese cabbage
1 egg (optional)
peanut or canola oil

handful of roasted chopped peanuts
chopped scallions
bean sprouts
lime or orange wedges
crushed red pepper
** Fish sauce as the name says is not vegetarian. It has fermented anchovies. You can get a fake 'fish' sauce which is vegetarian or just omit that ingredient and adjust the other flavors accordingly.
** Egg is optional. Feel free to omit it for a vegetarian meal.
** Tofu can be easily replaced with shrimp or any other protein if you prefer. 

Prepare the sauce:
Mix all the sauce ingredients. Taste. It should not be very tangy or very sweet. Adjust the ingredients per taste.

Prepare the noodles:
Pour warm water over the dried noodles in a large bowl. Cover and let stand for 10mins or so until the noodles are cooked through.

Prepare the stir-fry:
Chop tofu and bok-choy into small byte sized pieces. In a wok or a large non-stick pan, heat some oil on high heat. When the oil is very hot, add tofu pieces. Fry on each side for a few minutes until the tofu skins are crispy. Remove the tofu from the pan and set aside.

Add a little more oil to the pan if desired. Add garlic and bok-choy and stir fry for a few minutes on high heat. Add the egg and scramble for a few minutes.

Put everything together:
Add the noodles and the sauce back to the pan. Mix well; add some salt and cook for a few minutes until the noodles absorb most of the sauce (do not overcook).

Remove from heat. Add tofu and the garnish ingredients. Serve hot!

Have a great weekend everyone!