Thai cuisine's classic flavors found in mix

For most of us, pad Thai is a dish to order in a restaurant, not to make at home. Yet no restaurant version can compete with pad Thai fresh from the wok or skillet.

"Pad" simply means stir-fry. The classic flavors of Thai cuisine — sweet, salty, spicy, tangy — can all be found in this delicious mix of rice noodles and bean sprouts enlivened by garlic, fish sauce and chile peppers and chopped peanuts. A few beaten eggs tossed into the almost-cooked noodles complete the dish. You can experiment, as I did, with combinations of shrimp, tofu, chicken or pork.

Follow the basic rules of stir-frying: Use a very hot pan with a small amount of oil, such as peanut, that can withstand high heat. Cook in small batches to avoid gummy noodles.

"You want the oil to be smoking or right on the verge of smoking, which keeps the noodles from sticking and getting greasy," says Damian Gilchrist, executive chef at the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, Fla., who spent the summer studying Thai cuisine in Bangkok.

This recipe has a lot of steps, but you can prepare the egg, sauce and tofu and chop the remaining ingredients several hours in advance.

Shrimp and Tofu Pad Thai

1/2cup tamarind juice

2 tablespoons fish sauce

2 tablespoons palm sugar or brown sugar

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

8 oz. rice noodles (linguine size)

1 to 2 tablespoons peanut oil

1 lb. peeled and deveined medium shrimp

2 teaspoons chopped garlic

1 egg, beaten

6 oz. firm tofu, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

8 green onions, trimmed, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces

1 cup shredded Napa cabbage

1 cup bean sprouts, plus more for garnish

Red pepper flakes, to taste

1 tablespoon chopped peanuts

Lime wedges and Thai basil or cilantro sprigs for garnish

Place tamarind juice, fish sauce, sugar and vinegar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until sugar dissolves.

Place noodles in a mixing bowl and cover with hot water. Allow to stand 10 minutes or until pliable. Drain and set aside.

Place a wok over high heat. Once hot, add the oil and saute shrimp 1 minute or until pink. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds; add egg and stir until scrambled, about 1 minute.

Add the tamarind mixture, tofu, onions, cabbage, sprouts, pepper flakes and drained noodles. Stir until they are warmed throughout, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle with peanuts and serve with garnishes. Makes 6 servings.

Adapted from Damian Gilchrist, Ocean Reef Club executive chef.

The Wichita Eagle—12/29/10