Pad Thai

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Pad Thai is probably the best-known Thai dish, and its fame is well deserved, thanks to the tangy, subtle flavour that makes this dish so unique.

Funnily enough, although regarded nowadays as the Thai national dish, originally it is not from Thailand, but it was introduced in Thailand in the 1940’s (from Southern China or Vietnam, I’ve heard different versions).

Pad Thai owes its characteristic and absolutely delicious flavour to a sauce that the Thais made mixing Tamarind (or lime juice), sugar and fish sauce (although I’ve seen recipe that use soy sauce instead).
This combination brings four tastes (acidic from the tamarind or lime, sweet from the sugar, salty and Umami from the fish sauce) to the dish. I will be giving quantities but they are just guidelines: it will be your task to get the proportions right in order to ensure the correct balance that, in turn, will result in an extremely pleasant flavour for you and your guests.
Another important thing to consider is the texture of the noodles. First, for this dish you should be using flat rice noodles, and then cook it in the right way to assure that the right texture is achieved. The tricky thing about Pad Thai is that the noodles should be chewy but not too much and making them too soft will spoil the dish, whilst keeping them too hard will make it inedible.
Obviously this comes down to the way the noodles are cooked -or, better, not cooked.
Purists suggest that, rather than being boiled, the noodles should be soaked in cold water until they’re soft enough to wind easily around your finger.
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After that, they should be cooked quickly in the pan with the other ingredients adding the sauce little by little; at the end the dish should look quite dry.

A quick note before describing the process: I have come across loads of different versions of Pad Thai, each ones using different ingredients. I have used here only the ones that are, in my opinion, the common denominator, but other things can be added (chilli, even if I don’t think this dish should be hot, ginger, but it might be overpowering, dried shrimp or shrimp paste, sweet chilli paste etc). Eggs do not appear on every single recipe you will find online but, for what I’ve seen, in Thailand they tend to use it , so I’ve added them Note: The Thais prefer duck egg, so use them if you can find them.

Also, many recipes suggest adding tofu, but since I am already using prawns and eggs, I think it is enough protein, so I have omitted it.

Lastly, normally the dish is finished with some coriander but unfortunately it is a flavour I dislike, so I have used flat leaf parsley instead.

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INGREDIENTS
200 g flat rice noodles (Sen Lek)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp.shallot, finely sliced
10 prawn tailes, deveined
200 g bean sprouts
1 duck egg, lightly beaten
Peanuts, roughly chopped
2 tbsp peanuts, roughly chopped
A handful of coriander, roughly chopped

Cooking Sauce
100 mlTamarind water or 2 tbsp. lime juice
1 tbsp/ Palm Sugar
2 tbsp. Nam Pla (Thai fish sauce)
150 ml water
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  1. First, make the sauce: for the tamarind water, mix the tamarind paste with water (the rate will depend on the paste you are using; the one I normally buy requires 100ml water for 2 tsp. paste), then add the fish sauce and palm sugar and stir until dissolved; After this, add 100 ml water
  2. On medium heat, shallow fry the shallot, and, when soft add the garliccook for 1 minute (making sure it doesn’t burn!), then add the prawn tails; when they start cjhanging color (from greyish to red), add some sauce, turn the heat on, drain the noodles and add them to the pan
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  3. Keep adding the sauce little by little, stirring the noodles
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  4. When the noodles start softening up and look translucent, add half of the chopped peanuts and the bean sprouts:
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  5. Keep stir-frying for a minute, adding liquid if it gets too dry, then push the noodles to one side, add a scant tbsp oil and  crack the eggs on to it. When the eggs have set, cut into small chunks with a wooden spoon or spatula and stir in with the noodles
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  6. To serve, decorate with lime slices, chopped coriander and sprinkle with the remaining peanuts

Shirataki & prawns stir fry

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This is a very simple way to make noodles; in this recipe I use Shirataki for a low-calorie, low-carb dish, but it will work perfectly with other types of noodles, as long as you follow the proper cooking instructions.

I love stir-frying, I’ve always been fascinated by this technique; in my area there is an Oriental restaurant with an open plan kitchen, and when I go there I enjoy watching the cooks using their woks to produce excellent dishes at an incredible speed.
If you are not able to do the proper stir fry (it requires some skill), you can simply stir the ingredients using a spoon. There are only two tips that I would like to give you:
First, the sides of the wok will get hotter than the bottom, so try to make the food slide on the sides as well to cook it more quickly and enhance the flavours
Second: when you stir fry you will need to add some liquid. When you do it, add it little by little, not all at once. This is a fried dish, you don’t want boiled vegetables!

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INGREDIENTS (serves 4)
600 g shirataki noodles
100 g baby corn
100 g mange-tout
1/2 medium red onion
1 carrot
200 g bean sprouts
16 prawn tails, deveined
Rapeseed oil

For the sauce:
1 tbsp. Nam Pla (Thai fish sauce)
1 tbsp. Dark soy sauce
2 tsp. white sugar
2 tsp. tomato paste
150 ml vegetable stock (or slightly salted hot water if good quality stock is not available)
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  1. Cut the vegetables:
    Cut the mange-tout in half, lengthwise
    Quarter the baby corn lengthwise
    Cut the carrot a julienne
    Finely slice the onion
    The bean sprouts do not need any cutting
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  2. Heat the oil in the wok on high heat and, when hot, add the veggies
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  3. Stir-fry for 2-3 minutes on high heat, adding the liquid little by little as indicate above
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  4. As the veggies start softening up, add the shirataki and the prawns and cook for 3 minutes, still adding the liquid a little at a time
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Obviously, you can use any type of noodles for this recipe, just follow the instructions on the packaging

Shirataki (Zero calorie noodles)

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Shirataki is the name of a type of noodles, originally from Japan, that have a very interesting characteristic: they contain virtually no calories and, for this reason, they are very suitable for whoever needs to control his/her weight.

These noodles are made from the flour obtained from the root of a plant called konjac; they are made out of water for the 97% and also contain Glucomannan, a dietary fibre believed to help in weight loss.
The name means ‘white waterfall’, a reference to their translucent appearance; they have little flavour of their own and a gelatinous, pleasantly chewy texture, and can be used as a low-carb (or rather no-carb) replacement for pasta (mainly spaghetti) or other types of noodles.

I came across this ingredient reading a Dukan book.

I am not a big fan of the Dukan diet as such, but it contains a few principles that I like and, although I have never embraced the method, I have to say that reading the introduction of his book changed, to the better, the way I look at food and eat (after all, Pierre Dukan is a nutritionist, therefore he’s got a very deep knowledge of the matter). Although the conclusions he draws are  too extreme in my opinion, the idea of selecting the food you eat so that you can keep the calories low whilst not feeling hungry (which is the very foundation of the Dukan method) is a good way to lose weight healthily and maintain the results.

Shirataki noodles do exactly this, as they will fill you up with virtually no calories, and can be used, for example, for having a light dinner without going to bed hungry. The typical scenario I have in mind is someone with a sedentary job, coming back home after a day at work where all the physical activity was those 2 flights of stairs to reach the office.
We will still need food, but not so much as we would like to eat, because our body hasn’t used a lot of energy: something like shirataki is perfect in this kind of situation, and that’s when I eat them (for example a Shirataki stir fry with some veggies and meat or seafood), whilst I tend to have something more substantial when I exercise.

I will post more detailed recipes; for now, bear in mind that:

  • They can replace other types of noodles or even spaghetti (although the difference in texture is huge)
  • If you buy the wet ones, which come in water inside a sealed package, rinse them before cooking
  • ,They can be boiled or stir-fried and the cooking time is quite short (about 3 minutes)