After the holiday season, it should come as no surprise that I would be posting a recipe for something healthy. It is not my new year’s resolution to eat more healthy because I generally do (except at holiday season); but it is my resolution to update my blog twice a month instead of these ridiculous gaps in time – let’s see how that goes!
A month ago, I posted a ‘food update’ on facebook as I was preparing my fair trade, organic pad thai, and I had a few people request the recipe, so I thought it would be a fitting post for the start of 2012. I have tasted a lot of pad thais, without having ever tasted pad thai in Thailand. Who doesn’t love sinking a set of chopsticks into that spicy pile of noodles? While I have no idea if this is how they do it in Thailand, I can definitely say that what I’ve never liked is the amount of oil used to cook Pad Thai – no matter where I eat it in the rest of the world. So I set about trying to create my own healthier version by playing around with proportions from a very traditional Thai recipe. What follows – be warned – is a significantly fat-reduced meal. Don’t expect the usual puddles of chili-infused oil on your plate! You can, however, expect to taste the quintessential aromatic Thai flavours without tipping the scale.
A word about ingredients: I am not a believer in substitutions (except occasionally in baking). When it comes to International cooking, I find that the effort you put into finding the right ingredients is worth it, because you will end up with ‘the real thing.’ So in that vein, I must caution you not to substitute regular basil for Thai (holy) basil. Although related, the flavours of both plants are very different, and it is the holy basil that gives Thai cooking that unique….well, “Thai” flavour. However, in my efforts to create a more figure-friendly Pad Thai, I did end up substituting one key ingredient: instead of soaking tamarind in boiling water (as is normally done), I decided to use Indian tamarind sauce (they kind you often put on samosas). My reason for this was less about cutting corners and more about creating a fluid sauce without the use of copious amounts of oil. It works quite well, without changing much of the flavour of the dish. Just make sure you have a pure tamarind sauce – not one that’s mixed with other flavours.
Although this recipe cannot be totally vegetarian – due to the use of fish sauce – you can choose to use tofu instead of chicken, but be forewarned that you will probably have to add more oil when frying if you do not use chicken. If you do opt for chicken, you have another decision to make: chicken breast = healthier; chicken thighs = more decadent. If you do opt for breasts, be warned (again) that you might have to add oil as the chicken is cooking. You can also add shrimp to this recipe; since I do not eat seafood, I do not include it here. The vegetables I have included are bean sprouts (essential) and snow peas. You can also use red peppers, julienned carrots or eggplant if you so desire. I usually don’t use green peppers – I find them bitter and overpowering when cooked.
As for fair trade? Well, that was a random but serendipitous occurrence when I last made Pad Thai. I discovered that I had purchased a bag of fair trade, organic brown rice vermicelli at Highland Farms – in addition to the fair trade palm sugar I had on hand. The Pad Thai noodles were made of brown rice, which is even healthier. Here is a link to the product information for King Soba’s fair trade vermicelli:
And with no further ado, I present…Pad Thai (lower fat version)
10 oz Phad Thai vermicelli (flat rice noodles)
3 T peanut oil (or sunflower oil)
3 shallots, sliced in rings
1 minced garlic clove
1-2 Thai bird chillis (red or green), seeds removed and chopped
2 chicken breasts (or 4-5 thighs) deboned and sliced
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup bean sprouts, thoroughly washed and drained
1 cup snow peas, stemmed
1 cup loosely packed holy basil leaves
1/4 cup peanuts, lightly crushed
For the sauce:
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
2 tbsp palm sugar (*sugar from coconut palm. Substitute muscovado or brown sugar if you can’t find it. Palm sugar is available at Asian groceries, the Bulk Barn and health food stores)
3 tbsp Indian tamarind sauce (from Indian grocers or large supermarkets)
1-3 tsp Thai Sriracha chili sauce
Place the vermicelli noodles in a large bowl and cover them with cold water, leaving them to soak for approximately 45 minutes. Next, combine sauce ingredients in a small measuring cup and mix well; set aside. When noodles are almost done soaking, begin cooking. It is best to have all of your ingredients ready to go; the cooking phase goes very quickly and leaves little time for chopping in between. Heat the peanut oil in a large wok and add shallots, garlic and minced chilies. Toss for one minute maximum. Add chicken (or tofu) and continue to toss in the pan for 2-3 minutes or until chicken is browned. Push the chicken and shallots off to the side of the pan and add the eggs, using a spoon or chop sticks to scramble them as you would with scrambled eggs. When the eggs are cooked, mix them in with the chicken. Add the bean sprouts and snow peas and mix well, cooking for about 3 minutes. Drain your noodles, leaving a bit of water clinging to them, and add them directly into the pan, followed by the reserved sauce. Stir carefully to ensure that all noodles are covered with the pad thai sauce. When the noodles are soft and tender and the chicken is cooked through, add the holy basil and toss through for approximately one minute, until the leaves are slightly wilted. Serve the pad thai immediately, garnished with peanuts, some extra basil leaves, and a wedge of fresh lime. If you like your pad thai really hot, you can always add more sriracha chili sauce. Enjoy!