Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Vegetable Tempeh or Tofu Pad Thai

I fell head-over-heels in love with Pad Thai in my early twenties. My first husband and I would hang out at a little hole-in-the-wall Asian fusion deli, watching intently as the chef prepared our Pad Thai, dreaming one day that we'd recreate the magic at home, and save ourselves fifteen or twenty bucks by not dining out when the craving hit.

We never got around to perfecting scratch-made Pad Thai at home (perhaps because we were too busy sprinting toward divorce), but we did assemble a reasonable version using bottled chili sauce. Still, I always wanted to learn to make the dish from scratch, and my love affair with Pad Thai lasted much, much, MUCH longer than my first marriage.

I'm proud to say, I finally accomplished my goal, and created a Pad Thai recipe my family loves, full of vegetables, protein, and a zingy, spicy sauce. I think it still passes for "scratch," even though I use prepared ketchup. If you're more ambitious than I, feel free to make your own. I think I've mentioned my seven kids? I buy my ketchup in a warehouse-sized bottle. Don't judge.

Anyway, this is how we do it in my hizzy:

Vegetable Tempeh or Tofu Pad Thai

1/2 c. vinegar (white or apple cider - though I prefer white in this particular recipe)
juice of one lime
1/2 c. Bragg Liquid Aminos, low-sodium soy sauce, tamari or shoyu
1 c. cane juice crystals or natural sugar
1/4 c. ketchup
1 t. paprika or ground red chilies (depending on how spicy you like it)
1 t. garlic powder

8 to 16 oz. tempeh or tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
8 oz. rice stick noodles
oil as needed for frying

Use any or all of the following vegetables as desired:

1 or 2 carrots, sliced on the diagonal into 1/4-inch clices
1 or 2 stalks celery, sliced as described for carrots
1 small can sliced water chestnuts, drained
1 can cut baby corn, drained
1 c. bite-sized broccoli florets
1 c. bite-sized cauliflower florets
1 zucchini, sliced in half lengthwise, then cut into 1/4-inch "half-moons"
1 c. fresh pea pods
1 yellow, white or red onion, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 c. sliced green or red cabbage
handful green onions, chopped
handful fresh cilantro, chopped
1 or 2 Roma tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 or 2 c. bean sprouts
1 can bamboo shoots, drained

1 c. chopped no-salt roasted peanuts, divided


In a saucepan, combine vinegar, lime juice, liquid aminos, cane juice crystals, ketchup, paprika or ground chilies and garlic powder. Stir over medium heat until cane juice crystals are dissolved and sauce just begins to boil. Remove from heat.

Place cubed tempeh or tofu in a bowl or pan and pour prepared sauce over cubes, ensuring sauce covers completely. Allow to marinate for 15 to 20 minutes.

In the meantime, start your rice noodles soaking. Place dry noodles in a pot and fill with very warm (not boiling) water.

Heat a bit of oil in a skillet or small wok over low-medium heat, then remove tempeh or tofu cubes from marinade and lightly fry on each side. DO NOT DISPOSE OF "MARINADE" SAUCE. Work quickly, and turn cubes frequently. They should blacken around the edges slightly, giving them a lovely smoky flavor. When cubes are finished cooking, remove from skillet and place in a bowl for the moment.

Heat a large wok over medium heat and begin stir-frying your vegetables. Whichever veggies you choose, remember the rules of stir-fry dictate that you add your hardest, firmest vegetables first. Carrots, for example. Place your carrots in a heated, dry wok, tossing around in the pan for a minute or two. Then, add your next-hardest vegetable, such as celery. Work your way through your vegetables, adding fresh herbs like cilantro last.

Your vegetables should be slightly firm when bitten into.

Pour sauce over vegetables, reducing heat as needed to prevent scorching or overcooking. You just want to warm the sauce back up with the vegetables.

Add the blackened tempeh or tofu cubes to the vegetables and sauce. Again, we just want to heat the cubes back up.

OPTIONAL: You may hold the tempeh or tofu out of the communal wok, heat separately, and serve atop Pad Thai, instead of mixed in. I use this option when using only 8 ounces of protein, instead of 16, so no one gets shorted.

Drain the rice noodles. They should be slightly firm, as they will soften a little bit more when heated with the sauce. Add them to the wok with the vegetables, sauce and tempeh or tofu cubes, stirring until everything is heated through.

Stir in 3/4 cup of the chopped peanuts, reserving remainder for garnish.

Serve each plate with a sprinkle of chopped peanuts and a lime wedge, if desired. We sometimes serve the Pad Thai over brown rice, if we're feelin' funky.

Serves: Three teenagers, two kindergartners and two parents, with leftovers for parental lunches the next day.

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