Monday, October 19, 2009
Although I have an extensive cookbook collection (my fellow bloggers can attest to this), I rarely cook from them. I'm definitely a cook-by-taste/improvise-on-the-spot type of gal and have a really hard time following recipes, especially with seasonings. There are a few exceptions though — this project (of course) and certain dishes. Even though I have my own recipes and preferences for all variations of Seitan, Mac & "Cheese" and Pad Thai, I always like to try someone else's (at least once) since all three can be really different depending on the person's tastes. So because of that, I naturally had to make Pad Thai (page 236).
Every restaurant and every Thai family has their own recipes and proportions of ingredients for Pad Thai. Some are drier, saucier, sweeter, saltier, spicier... well you get my point. The basic blueprint is the same, but tastewise it can vary greatly. I'm definitely not a Thai food connoisseur, but I have had a lot of Pad Thai in my life. To me, a good Pad Thai combines all the essential flavours together without one overpowering the other — including heat. Everyone's heat tolerance and preferences are different so that's why you specify heat at Thai restaurants. There is nothing worse than getting a dish that is so hot that you can't even taste the food (and I say that as a spicy food lover!). But just because something isn't that hot doesn't mean it's not flavourful. And that is exactly the case here. Mild on heat, but very tasty. This recipe is a great blueprint to build upon. The proportions of sweet, salty, sour are all well balanced with the heat on the lower end of the scale — easily adjusted upwards if desired.
My changes to the ingredients were fairly minor — white onion instead of red, brown sugar & lime juice instead of tamarind (Robin's suggestion in the book), left out the chopped peanuts and bean sprouts (I don't really like them) and added in broccoli, mushrooms and red peppers. The soy sauce I used is Japanese soy sauce (e.g., Kikkoman). Oh I also probably used more oil than called for. I never measure oil when cooking and tend to have a heavy hand.
I've made Pad Thai plenty of times so I also adjusted the cooking technique slightly by cooking it in two batches since my pan isn't that large and also to ensure that everything is well cooked and seasoned. New cooks may want to split it in two batches so they don't get overwhelmed by having to quickly stirfry everything at the same time.
If you have never cooked Pad Thai before, you must have all the ingredients prepped and ready to go before you heat up the pan/wok because once you start stirfrying, the cooking process goes incredibly fast (the recipe is also marked "fast"). Trust me, you don't want to end up with mushy overcooked noodles as you scramble to chop up the garnishes. While the rice noodles are soaking, prep everything. If planned correctly, you could have this on the table within 30 minutes. If you are a little less skilled in the kitchen, you could still have this on the table within 1 hour.
All in all, I found this dish mild on heat, but deliciously balanced in flavour. Try it as is and then build upon it to suit your own tastes. If you want more heat, throw in more pepper flakes or your preferred chile pepper. Like it saltier? More soy sauce. You get my point.
Take this recipe and spin it to make it your own. Like I said, try it as is and then experiment with ingredient proportions. After you get the hang of it, you won't have to worry about that pesky fish sauce sneaking into your food anymore since you can just cook this yourself at home! :)
— Ms. Veganorama