Right now I’m living in Israel. Israel is officially, I believe, a part of Asia. A few days ago I decided to make some Pad Thai in celebration of a shared cultural heritage. Are you seeing the connection? It’s really very clear and logical. Anyway, despite the obvious continental linkage between my current country and Thailand, the tiny makolet(neighborhood grocery store) on my boyfriend’s street curiously seemed to stock only a limited selection of specialty Asian food items. While I was able to find exactly the right kind of rice noodles buried in a corner (I dusted them off and they were fine, I promise), I was at a loss when it came to fish sauce, tamarind juice, and couple other items. Aha, the joy of google! I found some spectacular substitutions which I’m excited to share, and the Pad Thai came out splendidly. Without further ado, a taste of Asia, from Asia (sort of):
Original ingredients from savorysweetlife.com; bastardized version (parenthetical comments and directions) my own handiwork
Pad Thai sauce ingredients:
4 cloves of minced garlic
½ cup of palm sugar (Hypothetically there should be palm sugar in Israel. In my grocery store there was not. It’s ok- brown sugar is the same color and works just the same. )
1 ½ tbl. white sugar
1/3 cup of fish sauce (You really have to live next to an Asian food store for this one. The best substitute I found for this was two parts soy sauce and one part lime juice, because it retains the salty and bitter aspects of the fish sauce. Israelis don’t believe that limes are different from lemons, so I was forced to substitute within the substitute. Indeed they are right! It was great with lemons too.)
½ cup of tamarind juice concentrate (Lime/lemon juice works really well for this too. Use 1.5 tsp for every 1 tsp of tamarind juice. Also saw that Worcester sauce works, but I won’t vouch for it. Mostly because I can’t even spell it.)
Pad Thai noodle stir fry ingredients:
Dried rice stick noodles – ¼ of the package (Yay! Actually found these! If you’re not as lucky, don’t despair- I would aim for either another shape of rice noodles, because the texture/taste are pretty key, and if those are unavailable then some form of flat noodle- udon etc.)
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
6 tbl. of vegetable oil
¼ cup of red onion, thinly sliced (The day I made this was not red onion day in the grocery. I used yellow onion with no lacking in taste and only a slight lacking in color. The dish is so bright as it is that it doesn’t ruin the appearance.)
1 cup of mung bean sprouts (I didn’t even try; I have no doubt Israelis don’t believe in mung beans. Regular sprouts did the trick.)
1 cup of carrots, match sticks
¼ cup of green onion cut diagonal in ½ inch segments
¼ cup of cilantro
1 ½ cups of either thinly sliced chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, or tofu
¼ cup of toasted peanuts chopped
Lime wedge (Again, Israelis and their limes. A greenish lemon it was.)
First the sauce: take all the ingredients and put them in a saucepan or pot. Heat them on medium heat, stirring, until the sugars dissolve. I took the liberty of adding some sweet and spicy chili sauce at that point. You can try to taste the sauce to determine whether it’s sweet or tart or spicy enough, but be warned that it will not taste like pad thai yet. You will think that something has gone wrong- it hasn’t. The sauce by itself just doesn’t have the great taste of pad thai. Don’t despair- just move on to the rest of the process.
The rest: Boil the noodles for about 4-5 minutes, until they are very al dente. Drain them and separate into small bunches. Heat half of the vegetable oil in a wok or very large frying pan and add half the garlic. Throw the meat/tofu/etc in the pan and fry for about 4 minutes. Remove it and heat up the rest of the oil, then adding the remainder of the garlic and the onions (whichever color you decided upon). Sauté until slightly golden, then add the noodles back in, in small bunches. Add some of the sauce , then most of the vegetables, and let everything sizzle for a few minutes before mixing together. Throw the meat/tofu/whatever back in and add some more sauce to taste.
Done! Garnish with remaining fresh vegetables, peanuts, and cilantro. If in Israel, take a moment to relish your local cuisine…right. In any case, enjoy!