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Saturday, September 7, 2013

New York Pad Thai with Kelp Noodles


Pad Thai is a popular street food in Bangkok and when I took a cooking class there last spring I learned to make it myself. It sounds exotic, but Pad Thai is simply a dish of fried noodles and there are almost as many variations as there are people making it. This is the version I make at home in New York, pared down to the basics, using local ingredients from my farmer's market.

Traditional recipes call for a generous amount of sugar, but mine calls for a little bit of honey, just enough to balance the other flavors. Honey makes the sauce slightly sweet, tamarind makes it sour, fish sauce makes it salty, and chili pepper makes it spicy. (Tamarind is a pod-like fruit from the tropics and I buy the concentrate (ingredients: tamarind, water) at the Bangkok Center Grocery in Chinatown.) It's a sweet-sour-savory-spicy sauce. You can make it mild if you wish.

Instead of rice noodles, I used kelp noodles. Unlike noodles made from processed grains like rice or wheat, those made from kelp don't contain any simple carbohydrates, just fiber. They're even detox-friendly.

Traditional versions of Pad Thai usually call for bean sprouts, pickled radish, shallot, tofu, scrambled egg, and tiny dried shrimp. For the sprouts, radish and shallot, I substituted some of the fresh produce I bought yesterday at the Union Square Greenmarket: scallions, red bell pepper, red bok choy, mint, and cilantro. To trim this recipe down and make it quicker to prepare, I decided that the chicken was enough protein for me and skipped tofu, egg, and shrimp. Feel free to add them if you wish. Vegetarians can substitute tofu and egg for the chicken and shrimp.

Pad Thai is often served with slices of lime to squeeze over the top. Instead I added the peel of the lime (and any attached fruit), very finely chopped, to give this dish unexpected bursts of sharp citrus flavor and to take advantage of the anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer compounds found there. If your lime isn't organic, avoid eating the peel and serve it as wedges.

¾ cup tamarind concentrate 
½ cup fish sauce
¼ cup honey
1 tablespoon chili sauce (ingredients: red chili, salt, garlic, vinegar)
1 pound kelp noodles, rinsed, drained, and  teased apart
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 pound chicken breast or boneless thigh, thinly sliced, at room temperature
1 cup thinly sliced scallions, green and white parts
1 cup thinly sliced red bell pepper
1 cup thinly sliced red bok choy
1 organic lime
1 cup chopped mint leaves, loosely packed
1 cup chopped cilantro leaves and stems, loosely packed
1 cup chopped blistered (soaked prior to roasting) or dry roasted peanuts

Add the tamarind, fish sauce, honey, and chili to a medium saucepan. Warm it over medium-low heat until the mixture starts to simmer. Reduce the heat to low and continue to simmer the sauce until it starts to reduce and thicken, about 5 minutes.

While the sauce reduces, cut 4 sides off the lime, each about a centimeter thick at the middle. Chop or mince each side into tiny squares of peel (along with any attached fruit). Set it aside.

Once the sauce has reduced and thickened, turn off the heat. Taste it and make any necessary adjustments. Add the noodles to the saucepan and toss until they are evenly coated with the sauce. Set them aside.

Add the coconut oil to a skillet over medium-high heat. Once it's hot, add the chicken in a single layer. Allow it to cook until it has browned and starts to naturally pull away from the pan. Stir in the scallion, pepper, and bok choy. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender and the chicken is fully cooked, about 5 minutes more.

Once the chicken and vegetables have finished cooking, turn off the heat. Lift the noodles out of the sauce and add them to the skillet. Reserve the remaining sauce. Add half of each of the lime, mint, cilantro, and peanuts to the skillet. Toss everything together until it is well combined, adding more sauce as needed. You should have just enough sauce to coat the noodles. They shouldn't be dripping with sauce.

Transfer the mixture to a serving dish and garnish with the remaining lime, mint, cilantro, and peanuts. Serve immediately.

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