Two conundrums we've all come across at some point: missing essential ingredient for a dish that you love but don't make often enough, & trouble finishing a 2-liter soda before it goes flat. Here's to killing two birds with one stone!
There is no real substitute for tamarind. Trying to make Pad Thai without tamarind is sorta like trying to make lemon tart without lemon. It's a fruit with a signature tang and its own special flavor. Tamarind pods are both tricky to find and tricky to handle. My local Whole Foods and Wegmans carry them - often sold in boxes much bigger than needed. They also can't be used straight out of the box. You'll need to soak the pods in hot water, dig your hand in and squeeze everything into a pulp, strain that through a mesh sieve, and cook it down into a paste. Worth the trouble if you make Thai food weekly, but not the easiest fix for sudden cravings.
Tamarind Soda, unlike the fruit that it's made from, is ubiquitous and inexpensive. My local Aldi carry them for under $1 a bottle. Just look for them in the Mexican food aisle, under the brand Jarritos - tamarind is one of their best selling flavors, almost guaranteed to be on shelf if the store carries Jarritos soda. Feel free to enjoy the soda and use any leftover for your favorite Thai stir-fry!
A traditional Pad Thai sauce has 3 components: sweet from palm sugar, sour from tamarind, & salty from fish sauce. I happen to have access to palm sugar from my local asian market, and have done the comparisons myself with palm sugar vs regular sugar, both on their own and in a traditional sauce. On its own, palm sugar taste similar to light brown sugar, with a more coarse texture. In a sauce, to my unrefined palate, the difference isn't very noticeable, with all the distractions going on in a stir-fry. So for this recipe, feel free to use what ever sugar you have on hand, palm, light brown, or good old plain sugar.
For the noodles, avoid directly boiling them directly in very hot water. It will damage the texture; the noodle will lose its signature chew, and break more easily when stir fried. Soaking in cold water is a safe bet but takes a long time. I've noticed that short warm soak softens the noodle well without compromising the chewy texture. Just use a temperature that is warm to the touch, that you can comfortably soak your hand in. If it doesn't hurt your skin, it doesn't hurt the noodles.
for the noodle:
- 4 oz dry rice noodles
- enough warm water to soak the rice noodle (mix ~2/3 cold tap + ~1/3 boiling water)
for the sauce:
for the stir fry:
- 1 shallot, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 3oz shrimps
- 3oz firm tofu
- 1oz scallion greens (or garlic chive, if available)
- 1oz bean sprouts
- 2 tbsp crushed peanuts
- 2 eggs
- more crushed peanuts
- more bean sprouts
- lime wedge
- crushed chili pepper (optional)
Soak dry rice noodle in warm water. You can mix cold tap with boiling water, in about 3:1 ratio. The soaking water should be warm to the touch, but cool enough that you can comfortably soak your hand in. Leave it soaking while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Mix together tamarind soda, fish sauce, and sugar for the sauce. Set aside for later.
Fry shallot & garlic until fragrant. Fry shrimp until cooked through. Remove shrimp from pan & set aside for later. Fry tofu until surface is lightly browned. Pour half the sauce into the pan and bring to a boil. Toss & cook the tofu in sauce for 1~2 min.
Strain rice noodle. Add rice noodle to the pan. Pour rest of the sauce on the rice noodle. Toss and fry until sauce is absorbed by the noodles and bottom of the pan is dry. Push the ingredients to one half of the pan. lightly grease the other half and crack in two eggs. Lightly scramble the eggs until cooked. toss the egg into the noodles. Toss in scallion & bean sprouts. stir fry until softened. Toss in crushed peanuts. Serve the noodles with fresh raw bean sprouts, lime wedge, topped with more crushed peanuts. Squeeze some lime juice on the noodle, mix it up, and dig in! Enjoy!