Like pretty much everyone I know, I love pad thai, that delightful combination of noodles, egg, bean sprouts, and peanuts, with perhaps some veggies, tofu, or shrimp thrown in. It’s just a little exotic and tangy, but still very approachable, which is why it’s the most popular dish at Thai restaurants everywhere. We tend not to go out for thai very often, though, and almost never order pad thai, because my honey has a mild peanut allergy that causes him to break out in hives. On the rare occasions he travels without me, you’ll see me madly concocting recipes with peanuts (like pad thai, cold sesame noodles, or tofu and spinach in peanut sauce), but since I’m usually cooking for both of us, that means no peanut dishes.
While looking for a way to use up the thick rice noodles in our pantry, something other than pad thai, I stumbled across this recipe for thai rice noodles with cilantro ginger sauce from Didi Emmons’ Entertaining for a Veggie Planet, one of my favorite cookbooks. It proclaimed that it was similar to pad thai, but featured ginger rather than garlic as its distinct undertone, and the peanuts were advertised as an optional garnish. So how did it compare to the venerable thai standby? Eh. They were fine, good enough, sufficiently edible, and vaguely reminiscent of pad thai, but really not that exciting. What’s more, though tomatoes are on the ingredient list (an opportunity to use our first batch of homegrown tomatoes this season), they dissolved away to nothing, leaving me wanting some sort of vegetables to balance out what ended up being just a big pile of flavored noodles. For me at least, I’ll hold out for genuine pad thai next time, peanuts or not.
Thai rice noodles with cilantro ginger sauce (serves 4)
12 oz fettucine width dried rice noodles
3 tbsp canola oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
2 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise into half-moons
1-2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
2 tbsp peeled and minced fresh ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp sugar
1 cup coconut milk (can substitute water)
3 tbsp fresh lime juice (1 1/2 juicy limes)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, leaves and stems
1 tsp kosher salt or 1 tbsp Asian fish sauce
1/4 cup crushed peanuts for garnish (optional)
1. In a large bowl of hot water, soak the rice noodles for 20 minutes. Drain well and set aside.
2. In a large, well-seasoned skillet, heat the canola oil over medium heat. Add the onions and saute, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 9-11 minutes. Add the tomatoes, jalapenos, ginger, and cumin and saute for 2 minutes more.
3. Add the noodles, sugar, and cup of coconut milk and cook, stirring often, until noodles soften, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add the lime juice, cilantro, and plenty of salt or fish sauce to taste. Divide among four plates, garnish with crushed peanuts, if using, and serve immediately.