A locavore’s go-to: pad thai?

| 03 Mar 2014 | 02:48

Every home cook needs a go-to dish in their repertoire. For me it’s the traditional rice noodle favorite, pad thai. Although my version lacks authenticity – no fish sauce and no egg – the end result still explodes with the complex flavors reminiscent of a Thai restaurant classic.

Cooking seasonal local vegetables keeps this and other dishes fresh and innovative. For this recipe, I chose baby bok choy, scallions and snap peas, all plentiful early in the growing season. Broccoli and colorful bell peppers will be good choices later on.

Two secrets of a successful pad thai are a balanced sauce and properly cooked rice noodles. Many versions call for tamarind paste, but since I like to keep ingredients easy to source, a combination of lime juice and brown sugar will mimic this fruit’s tanginess. Unlike wheat noodles, delicate rice noodles prepped for a stir fry should be soaked, not boiled. Follow the directions carefully – over soak and you’ll have mush.

Mung bean sprouts are a key crunchy and nutrient dense ingredient in pad thai. These are simple to sprout yourself – mung beans, a jar, a piece of cheesecloth, a dish towel, a dark cabinet and patience are all you need. You can also purchase these already sprouted. Protein in pad thai is optional; I add cubes of lightly browned firm tofu for chew and to sop up the addictive sauce. Top the noodles with a mound of raw sprouts, crushed peanuts and cilantro.

Next time you’re craving the sweet, sour, spicy flavors of Thai, look no further than your own kitchen.

Pad thai with vegetables

Serves 4

For the sauce

¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice

¼ cup rice vinegar

¼ cup tamari or soy sauce

4 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon hot chili sauce

For the noodles

8 ounces pad thai rice noodles, soaked and prepared according to package directions.

8 ounces organic extra firm tofu, drained, pressed and cubed

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon canola oil

1 teaspoon sesame oil

¼ teaspoon salt

2 cups snap peas

2 bunches baby bok choy, sliced into 1-inch pieces

1 clove garlic, minced

4 scallions chopped into 1-inch pieces

1 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish

2 cups mung bean sprouts plus more for garnish

½ cup roasted unsalted peanuts, chopped

Lime wedges for serving

In a small bowl, mix the sauce ingredients: Lime juice, brown sugar, vinegar, tamari and chili sauce.

Preheat a large non-stick pan or wok. When hot, heat 1 tablespoon of canola oil and the sesame oil. Add the cubed tofu and sprinkle with the salt. Cook for about 10 minutes, turning frequently, until evenly browned. Transfer the tofu to a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of canola oil to the pan. Cook the bok choy and snap peas for 5 minutes until slightly charred but still crunchy. Transfer the vegetables to the bowl with the tofu.

In the same pan, cook the garlic in the remaining 1 teaspoon of canola oil for 30 seconds, being careful not to brown it. Add scallions, cilantro and half the sauce mixture. Cook for another 30 seconds. Add the rice noodles and toss to coat. Add the tofu and vegetables, the bean sprouts and remaining sauce. Heat well. To serve, top with peanuts, reserved sprouts, cilantro and lime wedges.