Phad Thai

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My mother was born and raised in Bangkok….but she doesn’t make Phad Thai. It’s so easy to go down to the local street vendor and buy every meal, I don’t blame her. Besides, there are so many unique ingredients that you need to have on hand for almost every dish that unless you are in the business of cooking A LOT, it’s not worth having a kitchen full of obscure items you use only occasionally.

I didn’t start making Phad Thai, or actually appreciate eating it, until I was an adult. I know, poor deprived childhood, especially since mom is Thai.  She didn’t make it and we didn’t go out to eat it.  That makes it practically heresy.  Sorry relatives and ancestors.   But, after my first real taste in Thailand, I was hooked.  At first I scoured the internet, checked out cookbooks, including mom’s, tasted all local restaurant varieties and attempted every recipe to make my own.  All were never good enough. Too many Americanized ingredients or techniques adapted for inside cooking.  I’ve had some pretty bad Phad Thai here in the States, including some of my own creations. Mushy or hard noodles reminiscent of ketchup, or flavored too sweet or salty.  It just doesn’t taste how I think it should taste….meaning it should taste like Thailand: so good that you #cantstop #wontstop eating it.

See, nothing compares with authentic street vendor Phad Thai. Eating steaming hot, spicy noodles off a melamine plate in a crowded, sauna-like atmosphere filled with pungent smells that make your eyes sweat more than your body is something not easy to replicate. At least I have not found it yet. So imagine my fascination when I learned of #PokPok, Andy Ricker’s Portland restaurant making authentic Thai food in authentic ways using authentic ingredients and tools he has imported for himself…#lifechanging.  I purchased his cookbook of the same name and visually weighed his recipe against my memory of watching Phad Thai being made in Thailand.  Brilliant!  One of these days, I’ll amass the ingredient list and attempt his version. For now, I’ll have to settle for what I have on hand.  Plus, I’m still perfecting my cooking technique, and aside from the sauce, I think cooking technique determines at least 80% of the recipe’s success.

Like most stir-fried noodle dishes, the essential element is the sauce.  The actual ingredients of the stif-fry are more forgiving.

Phad Thai Sauce

  • 3 parts Tamarind water (I make mine by purchasing real tamarind, either in a block or the actual pods and soaking in water, straining out the seeds) This is a non-negotiable in my book.
  • 1 part palm sugar (You can purchase palm sugar at specialty markets, it usually looks like large clumps/pods of yellow-brownish sugar. It is usually really hard, and water must be added to make it into a useful syrup OR pull out the rasp/fine grater and get some sugar scraped off. )
  • 1 part Fish Sauce (You cannot substitute this for any other salty sauce and get the same results. Sorry, vegans. You just can’t.)

Mix all ingredients together.  Taste and adjust. I like my sauce sour, so I use less sugar, but some people like a sweeter sauce, so add more sugar. Same thing with salt.  Add more fish sauce if you want it saltier.  There should be a balance of flavors, and you should be able to taste all three: sour, sweet and salty.

Phad Thai Ingredients

  • rice noodles (soaked in water until pliable)
  • eggs (1 per serving)
  • extra firm tofu, cubed
  • mung bean sprouts
  • thai red chilis,  (seeded, sliced, or not)
  • garlic chives (they look like long, flattened green onions OR green onions and some garlic will make a fair stand-in)
  • shrimp
  • unsalted peanuts
  • radishes…dried shrimp…dried chili flakes,…etc.

More or less what you like, and have on hand. I like to finish my Phad Thai with fresh cilantro, because I like to eat cilantro.  Not necessary. And sorry about not having exact measurements. That’s just how I cook.  Depends on how much you want to make, how much you eat. Maybe 4-6 shrimp per serving, a few chives per serving, a 1/4 cup peanuts and 1/2 cup mung beans?

Start by heating the pan very hot, adding oil, cook the egg, flip and break apart.  I then remove the egg, add the garlic chives or green onions/garlic and the tofu and red chilis.  I add the mung beans, stir then last I add the shrimp and 1/2 sauce. Cook until shrimp is no longer pink.

At this point, I like to take everything out of the pan and set aside. I like to cook my noodles separate, because I feel like I can’t get my pan hot enough to do a good job with everything else in there.

Stir fry the noodles in some oil, adding the remaining sauce and some of the soaking water to ‘steam’ the noodles.  Cook until noodles are al dente. Plate and serve, or return the remaining ingredients to the pan to serve together immediately. Remember this is FAST FOOD.  If you leave it too long, the noodles will absorb all of the sauce and the texture will be off.

Serve with lime wedges, extra peanuts, dried chili flakes, granulated sugar, extra bean sprouts and fish sauce so everyone can adjust to their own taste.  I always add lime, fish sauce and extra dried chili flakes. The hotter, the better!!  Enjoy!

 

 

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Za’atar

I have read much about the spice Za’atar, the Middle Eastern spice, but I’d never been able to find it, or find out what was in it until recently. I don’t remember exactly where I got this recipe, but ever since, I’ve been putting it on everything.

Za’atar

1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds
4 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried garlic
1/2 tsp coarse salt

Curry Craze-Part 3

I love lentils. They are my absolute favorite legume. I think it has something to do with a quick turn around time. But, I also love the shape, and especially the texture. Regular brown lentils are my favorite, with red lentils coming in close second. My cousin passed this recipe on to me this past winter. I’ve adjusted it a bit to my taste. I could eat it all day.

Indian Spiced Red Lentils

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
pinch of salt, dash of pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp fresh grated ginger, or more!!
2 tsp Garam masala
3 cups water
1 1/2 cup red lentils, sorted and rinsed
1 can coconut milk
one bunch of cilantro
4 chopped tomatoes

Cook the onion in the oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger and Garam Masala. Stir and cook for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Stir in water, lentils and coconut milk. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer, covered for 20 minutes. Remove lid, and cook until lentils lose form and become mushy, about 10 minutes more. Serve over rice, if desired, with fresh cilantro leaves and spoonfuls of chopped tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Curry Craze-Part 2

Curry Ketchup just wasn’t enough to sooth my palate. Here’s a recipe that I love…though my kids, not so much. I’ve had a lot of squash soup lately. My neighbor makes a great Hokaido soup with fresh ginger. Yum! Here in this recipe, I think the apples add just enough tang to keep the soup interesting. And the curry? Can you ever have enough? (The recipe can be easily doubled.)

Squash and Apple Soup

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Large onion, diced
1-2 Tbsp curry powder
1 large butternut squash, or other baking squash
2-3 sweet apples
1 tsp salt
pepper to taste
1 cup apple juice or cider

Heat oil in a large stock pot. Add onions and curry and cook uncovered for 15-20 minutes, until onions are tender and curry is fragrant. Stir frequently. Meanwhile, peel the squash, remove the seeds, and dice into chunks. Peel and seed the apples and slice into chunks, too. Add squash, apples, salt, pepper about 2 cups water to the pot with the onions. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes, until squash is tender. Process though a food mill or in a blender. Pour back into the pot, add the apple juice. Since I rarely have juice on hand for drinking, I like to use the 100% juice boxes when cooking. They are the perfect size (+/-) and I don’t have any leftovers. Add additional water to adjust consistency. Season to taste, garnish with extra curry powder. Enjoy!

Curry Craze part 1

For the past two weeks, I just can’t seem to get enough spice in my life! For me that means a serious bout with a curry craze. Believe it or not, this is a huge departure from my childhood tastes. I hated curry, especially the traditional yellow curry you can buy in a powder at the grocery store. Just the smell reminded me of sweaty t-shirts. We usually didn’t eat yellow curry powder at home. I tried to avoid it while going out. Alas, the aversion continued as I was exposed to ‘curry-rice’ served in a Japanese school cafeteria, and later to curry flavored food at a Saudi Arabian feast. And Indian food? Gag me with at spoon! I had a very hard time. That’s why it is so crazy for me to actually want that same kind of curry flavor now. My taste buds must be dying.


Here in Germany they have all different kinds of ketchup. None of them, even the ‘regular’ ketchup, tastes like ketchup in the US. The ketchup here is much sweeter. (I like mine to sting with vinegary goodness, more tart than sweet.) Anyway, they have something called Curry Ketchup. According to the ingredients on the back of the bottle, it’s no more than regular ketchup mixed with curry powder. And what better to have with your curry ketchup than a good ol’ German sausage. Voilá! Curry-wurst is born. The Germans sprinkle extra curry powder on as garnish. Last week I had to buy my own bottle of Curry Ketchup. I’ve been putting it on all sorts of things. I can’t stop. Once I get back to the US, I’ll have to concoct my own Curry Ketchup. Here’s a guesstimate of how to make your own:

1 cup regular ketchup
1 tablespoon curry powder

Mix together. Put on anything you fancy. Store in the refrigerator. Add more or less curry powder depending on your personal tolerance for t-shirt smell. Depending on what kind of ketchup you use, it can be organic, veg, vegan, gluten free, etc. Just use what you normally do!

Powdered Sugar Cookies

I got this recipe from the wife of our branch president when we were in college. It’s actually an altered drop cookie recipe. By adding more flour, you can make the dough firm enough to roll, which is what I always do. We eat them plain at our house, but they are perfect for a royal icing. They taste like shortbread. To make drop cookies, just reduce the flour by one cup or so.

Ingredients

1 cup sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
2 cups butter (ha ha)
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cream of tartar
5 1/2 cup flour
1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix the first 4 ingredients until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, and then vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients together. Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Mix until dough is uniform. It will be soft. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight until ready to roll/cut. I usually divide the dough into 3 parts and freeze two portions wrapped in parchment paper.

To make the cookies, roll the dough to desired thickness on a well floured surface. Cut using cutters, or simply make squares, rectangles or circles by pinching off pieces and rolling into 1-inch balls and flattening to about 2 inches. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 350ºF for 8-12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Shao Mai

This is something we grew up eating on Christmas Eve every year. It’s really a Chinese dumpling, but somehow we ate it along with the other Thai food we shared with friends on that day. A bamboo steamer is traditional, but a stainless steel one works just fine.

Ingredients
1/2 cup chopped onions
1 lb ground pork or turkey
1 can small water chestnuts, drained and diced
1 egg
1/2 tbsp soy sauce
pepper to taste (don’t eat raw meat, so really, pepper to sight)
wonton wraps

Mix all things together in a large glass or metal bowl except wonton wraps. Spoon mixture into wontons and shape into dumplings, sort of like an open tulip. Garnish with shredded or diced carrot pieces. (Optional) Place in a steamer. Don’t over crowd or they will stick together. Steam for at least 20 minutes or until inside is cooked through. (Test one). Serve with dipping sauce. Serve warm. Makes about two dozen, depending on how big you make them.

Dipping Sauce Ingredients (***The best part, but I am totally making up the amounts. I have no idea how much of each liquid to use. I just keep mixing things like a chemist until I like the taste.)

1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp water
1-2 tbsp vinegar
1/2 inch crushed fresh ginger root
1-2 crushed garlic cloves
1 thinly sliced green onion (including green part)