Pad See-Ew and Green Papaya Salad
Sometimes the best meals come about spontaneously.
I’ve been meaning to make Pad See-Ew for a few weeks now, ever since my six-month-iversary with my girlfriend on July 4th (since we had also cooked Pad See-Ew together back on one of our very first dates). The only problem was that most of Santa Barbara’s little Asian markets were closed for the 4th of July, so we couldn’t get the right kind of rice noodles. We even went on something of a wild goose chase trying to track down a good-enough kind of noodle: a guy at Whole Foods (which was open on the 4th!), told me over the phone that they had something close… nope.
I don’t know what that Whole Foods guy was thinking; all they had were Shirataki yam noodles, and the similarly thin and even-more-fragile Tofu Shirataki. What I really wanted were fresh (not dried) wide, flat rice noodles like this. So we ended up making smoked salmon and avocado sushi rolls instead. Still a lovely six-month-iversary dinner, but it left my Thai noodle craving unsatisfied.
Two weeks later– the “heat wave” (i.e., over 80) we’ve been having in Santa Barbara finally broken– I decided on a whim that Pad See-Ew would taste just as good on a weeknight, and wouldn’t actually take up a whole weekend evening of cooking. True! Once you have all the ingredients (the trickiest one is a thick/dark sweet soy sauce– see below), Pad See-Ew is actually pretty speedy to prepare! It requires fewer ingredients than Pad Thai, and is just an all-around easier dish to make… if you have the right kind of noodles.
The thing is, I can’t be trusted at little Asian grocery stores to buy only what I go in for. Especially when I go in hungry. So I dropped in for fresh noodles, and also saw that the market was selling shredded green papaya.* In addition to the chicken, noodle, and Chinese broccoli (Gai Lan) dish, I decided to throw together a Som Tum spicy papaya salad. Once again, easy with the right ingredients.
The two dishes complemented each other nicely: the salad was much spicier than the noodle dish, but also more refreshing. The chewy egg and umami-flavored noodles (which we topped with fresh lime and some generous dashes of Sriracha) felt like Thai comfort food, and the salad made a nice crunchy contrast of colors and textures on the side.
One important disclaimer: given that this is my first-ever cooking blog post, I should probably confess something right here and now. I don’t measure things. I am more of an estimator, or a guesstimator, when it comes to cooking.** Even when I make something for the first time, my strategy is often to skim through three or four different recipes for the same dish before I start, and then kind of mash them all into a “best of” in my head, and just start throwing in those best-of spices and herbs until it tastes right. Of course I often live to regret this strategy either when 1) something doesn’t turn out quite as well as I would have liked it to, or 2) something turns out SO DELICIOUSLY but then I am left powerless to re-create it exactly as-is, since I didn’t measure a thing.
Nevertheless, I still highly recommend this cooking method. It allows you to tailor your cooking exactly to your own tastes, and also to become more comfortable with cooking– and what each of those individual ingredients is contributing– as you go. So although I’m planning to type up these recipes a.s.a.p. while the approximate amounts of everything are freshest in my memory (and the flavors are freshest on my tongue), I advise you, TOO, to not measure anything, and just to use these recipes as a rough guide. You’ll have more fun that way, and the results might even taste better, too.
* And I splurged on some Thai iced tea-flavored popsicles… I couldn’t help myself.
** You can tell I don’t actually bake much… but maybe with this blog that will start to change.
Pad See-Ew (Thai flat noodles, fried with Chinese broccoli)
~ 1lb. *fresh* wide, flat rice noodles, peeled apart and set aside
~ 1/2 lb. chicken/tofu/whatever chopped to bite-size
~ 8 stalks Chinese broccoli (Gai Lan) or 1 large head of regular broccoli (or broccolini!), chopped to bite-size
~ 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil (or any kind of oil)
~ 4 cloves garlic, diced
~ 1-2 green Thai Bird’s eye chilis, diced (or red Bird’s eye chilis, or half a jalapeño pepper)
~ 3 Tbsp. sweet dark soy sauce
~ 3 Tbsp. soy sauce (I used reduced sodium)
~ 1 Tbsp. brown sugar (or regular sugar), to taste
~ 2 eggs
~ white or black pepper to taste
Use a pan where you can brown the noodles nicely, over high heat. I used a giant cast iron skillet, but even a large stainless steel pan would work, if you don’t mind having to soak it a little, pre-clean-up.
How to make it:
1. Heat the oil over medium heat, then add the diced garlic and chilis, and stir so they don’t stick or burn.
2. Add the chicken, tofu, or other meat, and stir occasionally until it cooks through.
3. Stir in the noodles, dark soy sauce, and regular soy sauce. Turn up the heat, flipping the noodles occasionally, but also giving them plenty of time to stick to the pan a little and start to brown.
4. Stir in the broccoli, and continue browning the noodles. Add sugar to taste.
5. Push the noodles out to the edges of the pan and crack the eggs into the center. Scramble lightly, then mix the egg into the other ingredients. (It also works fine to scramble the eggs in a separate bowl in advance, then pour that mixture into the center of the pan.)
6. Add pepper to taste. Serve warm with a wedge of lime and/or hot sauce (I used Sriracha).
Som Tum (Spicy Green Papaya Salad)
~ 3-4 cups of julienned green papaya (you may be able to buy shredded green papaya and save yourself the peeling, seeding, and slicing)
~ 2 cups bean sprouts
~ 1-2 small tomatoes, cut into wedges
~ 1/2 cup peanuts, chopped (I used cashews)
~ 3-4 scallions, finely chopped
~ 1 cup green beans, halved and cut into bite size lengths
~ 3 Tbsp. dried shrimp, chopped
For the Dressing:
~ 2 limes, juiced (for 5-6 Tbsp. lime juice)
~ 1-2 Tbsp. fish sauce
~ 2 Tbsp. sugar
~ 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
~ 1-2 Thai Bird’s eye chilis, diced (red or green; I used green ones, which are spicier!)
~ 2-3 raw garlic cloves, minced
How to make it:
1. In a small bowl, mix ingredients for the dressing to taste, and set aside.
2. Julienne the papaya and place in large bowl. Add bean sprouts, green beans, dried shrimp, and tomatoes, and lightly toss everything together.
3. Stir or whisk the dressing one last time, then drizzle over salad and toss ingredients again.
4. Sprinkle chopped peanuts/cashews and scallions over the salad. Serve cold (with a beer?!).