January 22, 2012

Pad Thai for Two

I owe the environment an apology. Five copies of my dissertation - which included discarding black and white pages that needed to be substituted for color and noticing typographic errors that warranted even more extra printed pages - probably produced a carbon footprint equal to driving from here to Durham and back. And then I drove to Durham and back. Twice.

Carbon footprint or no, I have spent a glorious weekend feeling über-victorious and haven't had the anxiety-ridden episodes that I so enjoyed in the troubled days leading up to turning in my work. I've planned meals, gone shopping, registered with my fiancé (one of the best inventions of the modern wedding EVER), been to the gym, and have had a ridiculously delicious home-cooked meal at a friend's house - more on that later.

I also realize that all of those activities probably also produced a pretty big carbon footprint. Well, you can't win it all.

While discussing our dinner options this evening, my fiancé and I settled on something exciting and different - Pad Thai. This weekend being the first of dissertation post-stress, I felt different as well - de-shackled from my work and ergo adventurous. I felt like I could go to the grocery store, pick out the ingredients I needed, follow directions (adapted from a Weight Watchers recipe), and produce a fairly tasty, however inauthentic, dish. Asian cooking is far from my forte, and tonight only inspired me to do more with it. Ideas of ordering Asian cookbooks and specialty ingredients have been popping into my head for the past two hours.

Like most of my meals and dinners lately, this Pad Thai is skimmed down, slimmed down, and probably lacks in the gorgeous flavor and taste that you get at a Thai restaurant. Next time I will have more respect for the time it takes for rice noodles to soak and get really soft. I will make more sauce and put more fat into it. I will actually buy fish sauce instead of making do with soy sauce (a poor substitute, I am sure). I will experiment with shrimp. I will add the bean sprouts that I spent no less than ten minutes looking for, finally found, brought home excitedly, then forgot to use.

However, as dinner experiments go - and they have not always been good - there was something comforting about this meal. It was spicy, balanced, chock full of vegetables, and served in one of those oversized bowls that make you think you are eating more than you actually are. Scale this recipe up for more people, or just make a generous double serving, divide between two huge bowls, and snuggle up in front of the playoff game (or Once Upon A Time, whichever one strikes your fancy).

Pad Thai (chicken or shrimp)
Adapted from Weight Watchers

7 ounces boneless, skinless chicken, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
7 ounces rice noodles
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce, divided (use fish sauce instead if you have it)
1 tablespoon chili sauce, divided
2 cups broccoli florets
1/2 cup baby carrots, sliced thin
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon fresh ginger root, minced
2 teaspoons peanut oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup bean sprouts (optional, evidently)
1 ounce peanuts, unsalted
juice of 1 lime

Soak rice noodles in a bowl of water for at least an hour. When soaked and softened, drain and dry.

Meanwhile, chop chicken. Cover with 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and 1 teaspoon chili sauce. Set aside until ready to use.

Place broccoli florets and carrot slices in steamer basket and steam until just cooked and broccoli turns a rich green color. Immediately remove from heat and blanche in a large bowl of ice water to stop vegetables from cooking. Drain and set aside.

Prepare the soy-honey sauce: in a small bowl, mix 1 tablespoon soy sauce, honey, 1 teaspoon chili sauce, ginger, water, and juice of 1/2 of the lime.

Heat 1 teaspoon peanut oil in a large saucepan (add more if you're not as calorie conscious, or supplement your oil with cooking spray). Add chicken and marinade, and cook for about 3-5 minutes, until cooked through and brown. Transfer chicken to a separate bowl. Heat another teaspoon of peanut oil and add minced garlic and 1 teaspoon chili sauce. Cook until fragrant and slightly smoking, about 30 seconds. Add noodles and soy-honey sauce and cook for about 3-4 minutes, until sauce has infused noodles and they are completely cooked through. Add vegetables and cook about 1 minute, until heated. Finish off with chicken and peanuts. Add rest of lime juice.

Other finishing elements could include cilantro or more chili sauce for an extra spicy kick. Divide into two flat bowls and then go order an Asian cookbook so you can learn how to do this more authentically.

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