Since Joe has already lost ten pounds on a South Beach phase 1 diet, I am looking for ways to adapt recipes we already like to fit the plan. My latest “rework” is Pad Thai. Pad Thai is a stir fried noodle dish, typical food cart fare in Thailand that over the last thirty years has gained popularity worldwide.
Most of the Thai cookbooks I own are over thirty years old and I was surprised to see that I rarely found a listing for Pad Thai in the index. What I did find were recipes for “Noodles, stir fried Thai style”. I learned that Pad Thai was made popular in the 1930’s and ’40s as part of an attempt to modernize and revitalize the economy of the country. The full name of the dish is Kway teow phat Thai. Kway teow means rice noodles in a Chinese dialect and phat Thai means Thai-style, hinting at the possible Chinese origins of the dish.
The dish is a harmonic combination of flavors, umami (fish sauce), sour (lime or tamarind paste), salty (soy sauce or tamari) and sweet (palm sugar). Fish sauce used to require a special trip to the Asian grocer, now it can be found in most large supermarkets. I prefer tamari in recipes over soy. A by product of miso production, it is thicker and less salty than soy sauce. Palm sugar is a sweetener made from the sap of the flowers of the coconut palm tree. The taste is similar to brown sugar with caramel and butterscotch notes. Tamarind comes from the pods of a large tropical tree and adds a pleasant sweet tart note to dishes. . If you look at the list of ingredients on a Worcestershire sauce bottle, tamarind extract is one of the ingredients. Lime juice is usually substituted when tamarind isn’t available. Another recipe I found in my research called for apricot or prune puree if a substitute for tamarind was needed. One well known cookbook author recommended ketchup as a substitute for tamarind, texture yes, taste, not like any ketchup I’ve tried.
Several months ago I bought a container of tamarind pods with no specific reason other than to possibly use them some day. This recipe presented my opportunity, but I really had no idea how to extract the pulp from the pods. My first step was to remove the dried outer pods. Don’t expect them to come off neatly, they will break off in pieces. When the dried brown pods are removed, the sticky pulp is exposed along with strings that run the length of the pods, remove as many of the strings as possible. In the middle of the pulp are the smooth shiny seeds that almost look like they have been polished. After reading several articles I came up with the approach that worked for me. I put the pulp that still contained the seeds in a bowl. I covered the pulp with warm water for about twenty minutes. Then I put the softened pulp in a sieve and pressed on the solids with a pestle to extract as much pulp as possible. I got a decent amount of pulp and some tamarind water too. Next time I think I will take the easy route and order tamarind paste on line.
My version substitutes shredded cabbage for the traditional rice noodles since they aren’t part of phase one of the diet. Cabbage provides a good base for the dish and adds sweetness too. Noodles made from zucchini or daikon radish would work here too. I used shrimp as the protein in this dish, but chicken and either of those combined with tofu works as well. The secret to making any stir fry dish is to have all your components ready before you start cooking. It comes together in less than a half hour and I must say we enjoyed it very much.
- 6-8 cups finely shredded green cabbage
- 5 T peanut or neutral oil like grapeseed (divided)
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 4 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 12 oz to 1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1 green pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely sliced
- 1 large shallot, finely sliced
- 1 cup of mung bean sprouts, rinsed and trimmed
- 2 t or more of nam pla (Thai fish sauce)
- 2 t tamarind paste or lime juice
- 1 T tamari or soy sauce
- ¼ c chopped peanuts
- ¼ c cilantro leaves
- 1-2 Thai chiles (optional)
- 1 lime cut into wedges
- Heat 2 teaspoons cooking oil in a large wok over medium high heat. Swirl the oil around to coat the entire pan, then add the cabbage. Season with some fresh ground pepper and stir fry until barely crisp tender, 3-4 minutes. Remove to a bowl.
- Add a little more oil to the wok and add the eggs, and scramble quickly with a fork. Cook until set and remove to a cutting board and cut into thin strips.
- Add oil as necessary and add the garlic and the shrimp and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp lose their grey color, 2-3 minutes. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon to a plate.
- Add the shallot and green pepper to the wok. Season with salt and pepper and stir fry and stir fry until crisp tender, 4-5 minutes.
- Raise the heat to high and add a tablespoon or more of oil as needed Add the cabbage, eggs, shrimp and sprouts to the wok. Season to taste with the nam pla, tamari and tamarind or lime juice. Cook until all the ingredients are heated through.
- Add the chopped peanuts, cilantro leaves and optional pepper. Toss once or twice and transfer the contents of the pan to a serving platter. Serve with lime wedges.