News & Politics

Pad Thai

Cooking teacher Nongkran Daks shares her recipe for the traditional Thai noodle dish.

By Alexandra Greeley

Born and raised in Southern Thailand, Nongkran Daks of Reston started cooking at age eight when she had to wake early every morning to pound curry pastes for her sister-in-law's catering business. She has since broadened her culinary horizons by owning a restaurant in Bangkok; teaching Thai cooking in Laos, Taiwan, China, Thailand, Hawaii, and Northern Virginia; and becoming a member of the professional culinary association, Les Dames d'Escoffier. One of her most requested dishes is pad Thai, a stir-fried noodle dish. In Thailand, this is typically eaten as a main luncheon course and not as an accompaniment to curries and stir-fries, as is often the case here.

Kuay Tiaw Pad Thai

Daks stirs up her pad Thai the old-fashioned way, and what emerges from the wok is a robust, flavorful noodle dish. For authenticity, don't take any shortcuts or leave out any ingredients, particularly the sauce that gives the final dish its rich amber color and succulent taste.

Select the rice stick noodles marked "M" for medium; the thinner and the wider ones are used for other noodle dishes. Salted, or preserved, turnip is sold in cellophane packets at Asian markets and lasts almost indefinitely in the refrigerator after opening.

Have all the ingredients within reach because you'll have to work fast and be at the stove throughout the cooking time. With one bite of this pad Thai, which serves two people, you will discover noodle heaven.

4 tablespoons cooking oil
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon dried shrimp
1/2 cup sliced pork
1/2 cup whole shrimp, cleaned and shelled
1 tablespoon salted turnip shreds
1/4 pound flat rice noodles, soaked 30 minutes in cold water and drained
4 tablespoons pad-Thai sauce (see below)
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon ground hot chilies, or to taste
2 tablespoons ground roasted peanuts
1/2 cup cut-up garlic chives
2 cups bean sprouts, rinsed

1. Heat the oil in a wok. Add the garlic and stir-fry until golden brown. Add dried shrimp and salted turnip and stir a few times. Add meat and shrimp and keep stirring until the shrimp changes color. Remove the shrimp to prevent overcooking and set aside.

2. Add the noodles. They will stick together, so stir fast and try to separate them. Add pad Thai sauce and keep stirring until everything is thoroughly mixed. The noodles should appear soft and moist. If they look hard, add a little cold water and stir again. Return the cooked shrimp to the wok.

3. Push the contents of the wok up around the sides to make room to fry the eggs. If the pan is very dry, add another tablespoon of oil. Add eggs and spread the noodles over them. When the eggs are cooked, stir the noodles until everything is well mixed. This should result in cooked bits of eggs, both whites and yolk, throughout the noodle mixture.

4. Add the chilies, peanuts, garlic chives, and bean sprouts. Mix well. Remove to a platter. Serve with raw bean sprouts and a few drops of fresh lime juice.

Pad-Thai Sauce

You can buy premixed tamarind concentrate or make your own tamarind juice: Buy a package of compressed tamarind pulp at an Asian market, cut off 3 tablespoons of paste, and soak in 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of warm water for 20 minutes. Squeeze out the pulp and discard; the remaining liquid is the juice. Store any leftover juice or noodle sauce in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator, where it lasts almost indefinitely.

1 cup tamarind juice
1 cup palm sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup fish sauce
1 teaspoon salt

Simmer all ingredients in a saucepan for about 45 minutes until well mixed and syrupy. Stir occasionally to prevent its burning.