Pad thai is a popular, healthy, noodle dish served in restaurants, by street vendors, and in homes in Thailand. There are many variations of this one-meal dish; it can use seafood, chicken, meat, or just vegetables, as this one does, or any combination. Thailand was settled in the twelfth century by refugees from southern China, and the Chinese influence is reflected in this dish, the name of which means “Thai stir-fry.” The cuisine of Thailand reflects a number of influences—not just Chinese, but those of its other neighbors, Burma, India, Vietnam, and Laos, as well. Their food is known for its freshness and the way it balances a variety of flavors, as in this dish. Nam pla, fermented fish sauce, which is thin, salty, and not terribly fishy, is used here instead of soy sauce.
- 8 ounces firm tofu
- 2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, preferably peanut
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 4 to 6 Thai chiles, stems removed, chopped
- 3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 shallots, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon distilled vinegar
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- ½ pound dried rice stick noodles (ban pho noodles), available in Asian markets
- 1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce
- ¼ cup chopped fresh Thai basil (optional)
- 1 cup bean sprouts
- ¼ cup chopped peanuts
- 4 green onions, thinly sliced
- Chopped cilantro and lime wedges for garnish
Place 3 to 4 paper towels on a plate, add the tofu, top with additional towels, place another plate on top, and weight down with a heavy skillet to extract the excess moisture, for about 15 minutes. Rinse with cold water and drain. Cut the tofu into strips about 1½ inches long, and ½ inch wide and thick.
Heat a wok over high heat, add 1 tablespoon of oil, swirl to coat the pan, and when hot, add the tofu and stir-fry until golden, about 20 seconds. Remove and drain on paper towels.
Add a little more oil, to the wok if necessary, heat, and add the eggs. Allow the eggs to set, turning over as needed until cooked—don’t scramble. Remove and cut into chunks.
Add additional oil, if necessary, and add the chiles, garlic, and shallots, then stir for 15 to 20 seconds, or until fragrant. Stir in the vinegar and sugar.
Add another tablespoon of the oil, and when it’s very hot, add the noodles and toss to stir-fry, adding a little water if the mixture starts to dry. To stir-fry, spread and pull the noodles into a thin layer, scrape, and gently turn them over. Repeat this process several times until the stiff, white noodles soften and curl.
Season the noodles with the fish sauce and turn them until coated. Add the basil (if using), bean sprouts, peanuts, and onions and toss. Return the tofu and eggs, and toss to mix. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
To serve: place the pad thai on a serving platter and garnish with the cilantro. Arrange the limes around the platter; guests can squeeze the lime over the top before eating.