Food & Drink

Using the ol’ noodle to create a light pad Thai

Fresh ingredients transform pad Thai from a dark horse to a nutritious victor, satisfying cravings for the spicy-salty-sweetness of the classic stir-fried dish.
Fresh ingredients transform pad Thai from a dark horse to a nutritious victor, satisfying cravings for the spicy-salty-sweetness of the classic stir-fried dish. Washington Post

Hold on to your chopsticks: A typical restaurant offering of pad Thai has more than 1,000 calories, 30 grams of fat, almost 4,000 milligrams of sodium and 175 grams of carbohydrates. Kind of makes my arteries hurt just thinking about it.

I don’t want to feed my family the chemicals, sodium and fats found in the delivery versions of the spicy, salty and sweet Thai meals we sometimes crave. Plus, we often feel tired and bloated after those meals. But that doesn’t mean we have to forgo the flavorful comfort food altogether. We resolved to give the traditional pad Thai a healthful home makeover to satisfy those cravings.

Here are some tricks for crafting a healthful pad Thai, or lightening up any Thai or Chinese takeout dish:

▪  Use less oil. You’d be amazed at how much oil is gratuitously dispensed in a restaurant.

▪  Skip the sugar and try a touch of maple syrup instead.

▪  Double or even triple the number of vegetables and bean sprouts in the recipe.

▪  Use fewer noodles and more protein and vegetables.

▪  Intensify the flavor with fresh ginger, garlic and chilies instead of MSG or processed sauces. These fresh alternatives are flavorful, and they support the immune system.

▪  Avoid the deep-fryer. Instead, grill the chicken, use leftover roasted chicken or saute the shrimp or tofu.

▪  Opt for a lower-sodium tamari and apple cider vinegar instead of traditional soy sauce.

▪  Stick to a normal portion size. Restaurant portions encourage overeating.

▪  Use fresh or dried mushrooms for added nutrition and flavor.

▪  If you really want to amplify the nutrition, replace the rice noodles with spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles. My family has not embraced this form of “pasta,” but I think it is delicious!

This adaptation of pad Thai has less than half the amount of calories and sodium of the traditional delivery favorite; fewer carbohydrates and sugars; more vitamins and minerals; and a substantial amount of protein, making it a healthful dinner. It is easy to pull together if you have a stocked pantry; you’ll just need the protein and produce.

Light Pad Thai

4 servings

This makeover is designed to satisfy cravings for the spicy-salty-sweetness of the classic stir-fried dish, with less sodium and fat.

For added nutrition, include vegetables such as chopped broccoli, carrots and snap peas before adding the sprouts and sauce.

Make ahead: The dish can be refrigerated (without garnishes) for up to 3 days.

6 ounces dried rice noodles

2 tablespoons peanut oil

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

8 ounces peeled and deveined small raw shrimp (may substitute 8 ounces cooked, cubed chicken or 8 ounces drained, cubed tofu)

1/8 cup apple cider vinegar

1/8 cup plain rice vinegar

3 tablespoons fish sauce

2 tablespoons maple syrup, preferably Grade B

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

4 cups fresh bean sprouts

3 or 4 scallions, green parts, slivered or chopped (1/2 cup)

3 tablespoons crushed, unsalted roasted peanuts or cashews, for garnish

Lime wedges, for serving

Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Add the noodles and cook for 6 to 8 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a wok or large, deep skillet on medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the garlic; stir-fry for about 10 seconds, then add the eggs; stir-fry for 20 to 30 seconds.

Add the shrimp and the remaining tablespoon of oil. Stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes, or just until the shrimp is opaque, then add the vinegars, fish sauce, maple syrup, crushed red pepper flakes, bean sprouts and scallion greens; stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes or until just warmed through and well incorporated.

Toss in the drained noodles; stir-fry just until they have absorbed the wet components in the wok or skillet.

Divide among individual bowls. Sprinkle with nuts. Serve each portion with a wedge of lime for squeezing.

Nutrition: Per serving: 360 calories, 17 g protein, 52 g carbohydrates, 10 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 165 mg cholesterol, 1,520 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 12 g sugar

From Casey Seidenberg, co-founder of Nourish Schools, a nutrition education company in Washington, based on recipes from and Cooking Light and Eating Well magazines.