Tamarind Puree for Authentic Pad Thai

pad thai
Tribune News Service

Among my favorite noodle dishes, pad Thai recently was referenced in this blog. In truth, my typical pad Thai could be more accurately described as “peanut sauce noodles.”

For years, I’ve combined all-natural peanut butter with soy sauce, fish sauce, vinegar, lime juice, sugar and spices. Then I toss that with rice noodles and any fresh vegetables on hand. It’s an infinitely flexible formula, one I have to thank a dear friend for showing me an alternative to bottled peanut sauce.

Authentic pad Thai has become more achievable in recent years once my grocer’s ethnic aisle started stocking tamarind puree, which also may be described as liquid or concentrate. It imparts that sweet-tart note essential to Southeast Asian cuisine and southern Indian dishes. The liquid also could be diluted for Latin- and Asian-inspired beverages.

In gratitude for my dear friend who has been living abroad and keenly misses Latin and Asian food, I prepared an adaptation of more classic pad Thai. This recipe, too, is infinitely flexible, the constant being the sauce.

I opted for a vegetarian version with mushrooms and extra egg instead of chicken and shrimp. It’s also good with pressed and fried tofu.

Showcasing our garden green beans was another goal, which eased reliance on mung bean sprouts, which I don’t typically have on hand. A peeled and sliced shallot, crisped nicely in hot oil, stood in for the coarser fried onion. I’m also not above using packaged french-fried onions on top.

CHICKEN AND SHRIMP PAD THAI

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Sea salt and white pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil, divided

10 ounces rice noodles

6 ounces peeled and cooked shrimp, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 red onion, peeled and finely sliced

2 scallions, trimmed and finely sliced

3/4 cup mung bean sprouts

1-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated

1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed

1 red chile, deseeded and finely sliced

Red pepper flakes, divided

1 tablespoon tamarind paste, plus more if needed

2 tablespoons fish sauce

1/3 cup honey

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 eggs, lightly beaten

Roughly chopped cilantro leaves, for garnish

Finely sliced fresh mint, for garnish

Roughly chopped unsalted peanuts, for garnish

Crispy fried onions, for garnish

Lime wedges, for garnish

Directions

  • Season the chicken with the salt and white pepper.
  • Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add seasoned chicken and cook in oil until browned all over.
  • Cook the noodles according to packet instructions, then drain and set aside.
  • In a large bowl, combine cooked chicken and noodles, the shrimp, vegetables, ginger, garlic, chile and a pinch of red pepper flakes; mix well.
  • To make sauce, in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the tamarind paste, fish sauce, honey and vinegar; bring to a simmer. Taste and add more tamarind paste, if desired; it should be piquant, but not too sour. Stir in a pinch or two of red pepper flakes and set aside.
  • Heat remaining oil in large wok or skillet over high heat. Add noodle mixture and stir-fry, ensuring ingredients move around pan and start to cook.
  • Tip in the eggs and continue to stir-fry until vegetables start to caramelize and eggs cook, for about 3-4 minutes.
  • Add sauce to pan and toss ingredients, making sure sauce does not stick to pan. Stir-fry for a further 2 minutes and then remove from heat
  • Divide between 4 serving plates and scatter with the fresh herbs. Garnish each with some of the peanuts, crispy fried onions and a wedge of lime. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

— Recipe adapted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from “Wagamama Feed Your Soul” by Steve Mangleshot (Kyle Books; October 2019).

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