April 3, 2013

Everyday food...a pad thai recipe

What is everyday food for you?  Until five years ago, we lived in Brooklyn and worked in Manhattan so everyday food was all kinds of food.  There was plenty of diversity - everything from a hearty bacon and egg sandwich grabbed on the way into work for breakfast, to panini, sushi, thai noodles or halal chicken from the street vendor for lunch, to pizza/pasta, Chinese or Korean take-out for dinner.  But after moving to the suburbs, we had to adjust to fewer options.  Because of that, I started to cook a lot more.
I would say I have a good dozen or so everyday dishes that I make for dinner regularly.  Certain things come and go (for example, I used to make lemon chicken, or chicken piccata, all the time but just stopped) but some are mainstays.  My son loves ground turkey so I cook with that a lot and I like to put my oven to work baking salmon, pork tenderloin, and sweet potatoes.  I also do a lot of stir-fry since I grew up on it.  I like that, similar to baking, I can use a recurring line-up of basic pantry ingredients (soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar, oyster sauce, etc.) to make something quick and tasty.  You can incorporate protein and vegetables in your stir-fry and serve it up with some kind of grain on the side.  In some cases, everything comes together in one pan!

For the most part, everyday food that I cook needs to be fast - the proverbial 30 minute meals. I don't mind cooking things that require some prep work earlier in the day but at dinner time, with a very talkative 7-year old and homework to be done, it needs to be quick or I'll go crazy...on the weekdays anyway. Weekends are far more leisurely...

Lately, I've been trying to expand my definition of everyday food when it comes to home cooking.  Maybe it's thanks to the long, cold winter but I've been staying in and dabbling in new savory dishes, and I thought it'd be fun to post one of them for a change.  (Alyssa, I hope you see this because this post was inspired by you : )

That brings me (finally) to this pad thai.  This is one example of me trying to replicate a favorite restaurant dish at home.  I love pasta and noodles in almost every form and I'm a big fan of Thai food for the interesting balance of salty, sweet, spicy and sour flavors.  When we lived in Brooklyn, we went to Williamsburg for great Thai food.  Where I live now, a good pad thai is hard to come by but I do get my noodle "fix" in part by going to an authentic Malaysian restaurant relatively nearby.  But what I really want to do is re-create some of these dishes at home so I can have it more often and, hopefully, make it a bit healthier. There's always the chance I'll get lucky like I did with the homemade mocha frappucino.

And speaking of Everyday Food...it's really too bad that the magazine is no longer being published regularly.  It was always beautifully laid out and chock full of good seasonal recipes that even listed nutritional information.  Could it have been too good?  I mean, have a couple of years' subscription (that I kept) but admittedly stopped subscribing when I figured that one year's collection probably held enough recipes for me to cook for a lifetime!  In fact, I barely scratched the surface when it comes to cooking from the magazines and now that it's no longer, I'm re-visiting them.  From one issue (the January/February 2012 "Light" issue) alone, I recently made two recipes.  The first was a crock-pot beef stew that doesn't even require browning the meat (it was delicious) and the second recipe is where I derived this pad thai dish from.

It's funny but when it comes to savory cooking, I like cooking without a recipe.  In cases where I do or have to, I'm pretty flexible about adding what I have on hand and making changes - something I rarely can or want to do when it comes to baking!  This was the case with this dish, which started off as a vegetable and tofu pad thai recipe.  I added shrimp and other things, omitted the tofu (though I love it, I didn't use it in this case), and changed up the proportions of ingredients so that the final dish is quite different from the original.  But happily, I think it turned out quite well and my husband and I plan to enjoy it again soon.  It's a nice, fresh homemade version of pad thai, with the combination of sharp flavors.

And this is a far lighter pad thai than what we'd typically get from a restaurant.  I think light food is good everyday food.  Don't get me wrong - I love the real, full-on restaurant pad thai when it's done well but being able to make a healthier, relatively easy, one at home is a homerun.  If you're interested in making this dish yourself, check it out after the jump...

This dish is fairly loosely based on a recipe I found in an old issue of Everyday Food magazine.  Here's what I came up with:

First, I started with 6 ounces of flat noodles.  Cook it according to the package instructions.  In my case, that meant cooking it in boiling water for just about 3 minutes.  Then, I rinsed it under cold water and drained it.
The crucial element is the sauce, which combines elements of salty, sour, sweet, and spicy.  It breaks down like this in this recipe:

Salty - from fish sauce and/or soy sauce
Sour - from lime juice and /or rice vinegar (other recipes use tamarind paste)
Sweet - from brown sugar
Spicy - from chili sauce

This is where a recipe is necessary, at least to provide an initial guideline for creating the sauce base.  As I noted above, some recipes call for tamarind paste but since I've not been able to find it, I'm happy to try a version, like this one, using lime juice.

To make the sauce, place 3 tablespoons of lime and 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar (you can use all lime juice as per the recipe but I have seen many recipes call for vinegar and I actually ran out of limes!) into a small bowl.  Add 3 tablespoons of fish sauce or soy sauce, or a combination (I used mostly fish sauce and a touch of soy).  I know fish sauce is on the stinky side but it doesn't cook up that way and just brings a deep saltiness to a cooked dish.  Next, add 2 tablespoons of brown sugar (original recipe used 1 but it was too sour/spicy for my taste) and about half a teaspoon of Sriracha (or chili sauce).  I go light with the chili sauce since I find just a bit of Sriracha adds enough spice for me and you can always serve more on the side. 

This recipe is intended to be lighter than the restaurant variety so it's less sweet than what you (and I) might be used to even with the higher amount of sugar I'm using.  Taste the sauce and see what you think and make adjustments if you see fit but I'd bare in mind that the flavors will be a bit more mellow once added to the rest of the ingredients.
Once the sauce is done, set it aside and get ready to fire up the pan.  I like cooking in a large non-stick skillet so I don't have to use much grease.  First, lightly oil the pan and once heated, add 3 lightly beaten eggs, with a piece of salt and pepper.  I let it set a minute before gently moving it around, spreading it, and flipping.  I want big pieces of eggs. 
Transfer cooked eggs to a plate and wipe the pan clean with paper towel.  Add a bit more oil and cook the shrimp.
Transfer the shrimp to the plate with the eggs.  Next, add bean sprouts.  If you can find it at an Asian market, bean sprouts are a great way to bulk up a noodle dish without adding more carbs.  I used to hate it as a child but I've come to appreciate it now.  I like to cook the bean sprouts for just a minute in the pan in order to soften it slightly.  Transfer the bean sprouts to another plate or bowl.
Wipe the pan dry of any moisture, add about a teaspoon of oil.  Then add minced garlic and all the whites and half the green ends of 6 scallions into the pan.  Cook for a minute until fragrant, stirring it around.
 Then add the sauce and bring it a simmer.
Add noodles and cook, stirring often, for 1-2 minutes. 
Add the shrimp, eggs and bean sprouts back into the pan with the noodles.  Toss to combine and warm everything through.  Serve immediately, topping each bowl with some chopped peanuts, scallion greens, and a wedge of lime.
Instead of shrimp, you can use chicken or another protein.  Or make a vegetarian version and add other vegetables and tofu.  Use more or less of  the add-ins that you prefer.  Customize it to your own liking!


Shrimp Pad Thai
Loosely adapted from the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of Everyday Food (The "Light" Issue)

- Serves anywhere between 2 to 4 -

6 ounces dried wide, flat rice noodles
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus wedges for serving (3 limes)
1 tablespoon rice vinegar (or substitute with more lime juice)
3 tablespoons fish sauce or soy sauce (or use a combination)
1/2 teaspoon chili sauce, such as Sriracha (adjust, to taste)
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
Approximately 1 tablespoon canola oil

3 large eggs, lightly beaten
12 medium size shrimp, peeled and cleaned
2 cups bean sprouts
3 garlic cloves, minced
6 scallions, white and green parts separated and thinly sliced
Salt and pepper, for seasoning
2 tablespoons roasted peanuts, chopped

Cook noodles according to package instructions.  Rinse and drain; set aside.

To make the sauce, whisk the lime juice, vinegar, fish/soy sauce, chili sauce, and brown sugar together in a small bowl.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat about a teaspoon of oil over medium heat.  Add eggs, with a pinch of salt and pepper, and let cook until it just starts to set.  Move the eggs around by pulling in from the edges, allowing it to set, and flipping it over.  Transfer cooked egg pieces to a plate.  Wipe skillet and add about a teaspoon of oil to the pan.  Season shrimp with salt and pepper and cook in the pan.  Transfer cooked shrimp to the same plate with the eggs.  Add bean sprouts and toss for a minute to give it a chance to wilt slightly.  Transfer bean sprouts to a plate or bowl.

Wipe away any moisture in the skillet.  Add a teaspoon of oil, the garlic and all the whites as well as half the greens of the scallions to the pan.  Stir around and cook for a minute until fragrant.  Add the sauce and bring to a simmer.  Add noodles and cook, stirring frequently, for 1-2 minutes.  Add eggs, shrimp, and bean sprouts back to the pan.  Toss to combine and warm everything up together.

Transfer pad thai to serving bowls.  Top with chopped peanuts, remaining scallion greens, and a wedge of lime.  Serve immediately.



  1. Monica, this looks incredible! I have a weakness for good pad thai, and I feel the same way about everyday food: it needs to be reasonably quick and definitely light (because around here, we're counteracting my own blog food, which isn't always "light." I've bookmarked this to make for dinner sometime soon.

  2. Thanks so much, Shannon! I like that I used hardly more than 1 tbsp oil to make the whole thing. Since it's light, the pad thai definitely on the tart side so if you do give it a go, you might want to taste and see if you want more sugar in it. But I know just how you feel - I have no space for much sugar in savory foods given all the blog-baking that goes down!

  3. Pad thai is one of my fave things to eat! This recipe looks wonderful, can't wait to make my own :)

  4. Hope you do, Natalie! Pad thai is definitely one of my favorites. It's neat to try it at home - even when it's not exactly the same, it can be better in a different way.

  5. This looks fantastic, and my husband agrees! I added this on my "to make list", so hopefully in the near future. I made pad thai a long time ago, but I can't remember much except that the recipe had carrots :)

    Super glad you posted this!

  6. Hi Alyssa - so glad you caught this! You definitely inspired me to post a savory item! : ) I'm sure you would do a better rendition of pad thai than I could. Carrots would be great - the recipe I worked off of had it in there. Fried tofu would also be very authentic but I wanted to keep it as simple as possible (and lighter).

    Hope you give it a try and do taste and adjust the seasoning - I keep warning that it's not as sweet as the restaurant ones, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

    PS - You might not remember but I'm making that beef stew I mentioned again today...might post it. : )

  7. Oh delicious! We love ordering pad thai when we go out, but we haven't made it at home yet. This looks SO very good. Thank you for sharing, Monica. Ryan and I will make this during our first week in our new home!

    1. Sounds like you all have an incredible amount going on! It's amazing there's time for any cooking at all. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  8. Yum, this looks so delicious! I love that it's a lightened recipe, too!

    1. Thank you, Jenn. Lightening things up is definitely a huge motivation for me to get cooking at home!

  9. This is a test comment to see how the replies go! Thanks for setting it up! :D

    1. Hi - thanks for the nudge and hopefully, this thing works and you can see my replies. : )

  10. I like quick and easy meals during the week but I don't think I've ever made pad thai - this looks delicious!

    1. I'm with you on quick & easy during the week and lately, I've been spending more time really cooking and trying new things on the weekends. I'll definitely be making this pad thai often.

  11. OK, I had to jump over and see this recipe when you commented that you'd made Pad Thai recently... this looks phenomenal! And I love that it's a lighter version for weeknight cooking. Pinning this to try - can't wait!

    1. haha - glad I enticed you to swing by, Marie! : ) It's great to be able to lighten up some of our favorite take-out foods and have them more often at home...

  12. This looks so good and easy. I can't wait to try it!

    1. I hope you do try it, Karen. You can add/subtract a lot of the ingredients and use whatever you like. It's really that sauce that's the trick and you can adjust it to your liking in terms of making it sweeter or not, etc. : )

  13. LOVE pad thai and how you've used so much sprouts in here. And that shrimps and eggs?! Oh my!

    1. Funny enough, I used to hate bean sprouts as a child and pick it out whenever it came in my soup noodles or whatnot...now, I'm a fan. It bulks the portion up and I can eat less of the noodles. I'm a big shrimp and eggs girl. I'll just scramble the two together with some scallions and have dinner. : )

  14. Gotta try your pad thai recipe! I love Thai food and I can eat everyday... :) I made my own version before but something is not right. Looking forward to giving this a try!

    1. I'm going to make it again soon. I think the restaurant versions are always going to be "heartier" and have that wok-fire that I can't replicate at home but I like this as a lighter version and it satisfies my craving for it... : )

  15. Oh...this is so pretty and definitely my kind of everyday food. Living in LA, everyday food is all kinds of food as well. :) I love quick cooking recipe like this one.

    1. I love having a wide choice of foods - living in LA will sure provide that! : )

  16. Hello even though many moons later,
    I made your pad Thai tonight and we loved it. Mine was with tofu (just a light dust of flour and sautéed briefly) and pistachios at the end. So good. Big thanks, celesta

    1. Lovely to hear that! I am also thinking of making pad thai soon...I keep meaning to but rarely do it for whatever reason. Your version sounds delicious; so happy you enjoyed it.



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