When we first started dating, Diego invited me to his place one night for dinner. I showed up with a bottle of wine and there he was in his cramped kitchen, sweating like a (very cute) farm animal surrounded by a flurry of ingredients and kitchenware. He was behind on his prep plus I’m sure it was pretty nerve-wracking, cooking for a date. He announced he was making Pad Thai.
When he was finally done, he presented to me the entire wok. I was very hungry and considered eating off of it but caught myself in the last minute figuring it was too early for such unladylike behavior. I also had another concern. While everything looked beautiful – a bed of white noodles dotted with orange shrimps, yellow tofu and dark green cilantro – it looked so…white. All the Pad Thais I’d had so far were coated in a sweet brownish sauce but this looked it was coated in nothing. The hunger in my stomach started turning into something like dread. What if it doesn’t taste like anything? Should I tell him or should I just suck it up and pretend like it’s the best Pad Thai ever? What if he insists I have seconds or gasp, offers to make it again? I should just break it to him now, right? Do I really wanna be in a relationship full of bad Pad Thai? Oh, but he worked so hard!
He was watching. I was gonna have to take my first bite now. I carefully brought a forkful to my mouth, making sure I had a bit of everything. I started chewing. A shower of relief. This was very flavorful stuff! It was so well-seasoned and quite acidic with a lot of heat every time you bit into a sliver of labuyo. It was delicious and I was so glad I didn’t have to smile politely while telling him so.
Diego’s Pad Thai has become one of my favorite dishes. He made it for lunch yesterday and I was there to excitedly watch. I much prefer his salty-sour take to the usual sweet preparation. Actually, I don’t like it any other way now. I’ve also developed a taste for cilantro, something I couldn’t stand before. Some people think cilantro is a hate-it-or-love-it kind of thing but I beg to differ.
For Diego’s Pad Thai, you’ll need:
250 g flat rice noodles
6 T soybean oil
6 cloves garlic
5 labuyo (bird’s eye) chili peppers or to taste
12 shrimps, head removed and deveined
4 chicken thigh fillets or 2 chicken breast fillets cut into strips
1 block firm tofu
70 mL patis (fish sauce)
70 mL fresh lime juice
2 t sugar
4 cups bean sprouts
1 1/2 cups cilantro (leave some for garnish)
Lime wedges (for garnish)
1. Soak the noodles in hot water for about 2o minutes. They should be softened but not entirely since they’ll be cooked in the wok later with the rest of the ingredients. Set aside.
2. Slice the tofu crosswise into medium-thin squares. To cut them into roughly equal squares, cut the block in half and then cut those halves in half and so on instead of starting from one end going to the other. Heat half the soybean oil in a pan and fry the tofu squares until sturdy and browned. If you’re not using a non-stick pan, wait until the oil gets hot or else the tofu will stick and tear.
3. Slice the browned tofu squares into strips and set aside. If you want to skip this process, you can pick up a pack of fried tofu squares at the supermarket.
4. Prepare the Pad Thai dressing. In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix 70 mL of patis with 70 mL fresh-squeezed lime juice and 2 teaspoons of sugar. You should end up with a little over 1/3 cup of this mixture. You can adjust patis and lime flavors to your liking later.
5. Chop the garlic and labuyo. Cut the chicken into strips. Heat the soybean oil in a wok and swirl it around. Add in all three ingredients and sautee until chicken is cooked through.
6. Throw in the shrimps and cook until they start to change color.
7. Add tofu and softened noodles.
8. Pour in the dressing and mix well.
9. Add the bean sprouts and cilantro. Use the stems too, they’re packed with flavor! Mix and cook until the bean sprouts are softened, about 2 minutes. Also make sure the noodles are not overcooked. When done, taste and adjust patis and lime to taste. Set aside.
10. Place peanuts in a plastic bag and crush them using a rolling pin, mallet or in this case a hammer. How manly. We just transferred what we didn’t need into a container and used the bag they came in.
11. Plating time! Garnish with crushed peanuts and cilantro. Serve with a lime wedge.
I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
Fun Food Fact: Cilantro and coriander are different parts of the same plant. Cilantro refers to the leaf and coriander to the seed.