Potluck Pad Thai

Right, so last Sunday. Oscar night. Did you see all the people who were expected to win win? Check out the lovefest of Al Gore (remember when we used to think he was too stiff to appear in public?), see any antics from Sacha Baron Cohen? I didn’t. I was at a potluck party instead. We ate a lot of food.

I used to slave over what to bring to a potluck–any potluck. Even to barbecues or parties where bringing food was optional. I thought that this was a pretty fair way to show my appreciation for someone else throwing and inviting me to a party, right? I didn’t try to look into dishes that may appear to be a lavish piece of work that could feed an army, but really only took me five minutes whole to make. Enter pad thai.

Culled from my one night stand in the kitchen of Camaje restaurant, this pad thai recipe was one of the quickest, easiest things I’ve ever thrown together. No wonder the author of the recipe (no doubt the head chef Abby) had written as the first sentence in its directions: “The most important thing is that all the ingredients are laid out ready to be cooked.” From that point on, it was all thrown together in a pan, transferred to a serving dish, and more stuff thrown onto it.


and the potluck oscar for best dessert was a tie: Apple custard tart, left; English (carraway) seed cake, right


seitan had never been so tasty as Becca’s homemade, home-kneaded version at right, baked with brussel sprouts; left, Matt’s tangy potato salad with red onions, capers and “I accidentally put in cilantro instead of parsley”


beets, greens and tiny toms

Because I’d wanted to bring a dish that could be enjoyed by all meat-eaters, vegetarians and vegans alike, I dismissed the bit of fish sauce that the original recipe called for, and used tofu instead of shrimp or chicken. I had a frustrating time searching for the tamarind paste; having found all the other ingredients needed for the sauce, I eventually opted for a bottle of “Pad Thai Sauce” from a Chinese grocery, in which the ingredients consisted primarily of palm sugar, tamarind, onion, garlic, peanut, chili, and corn syrup.I’m sure the Thai Grocery on Mosco St. in NYC would have had the ingredients if they’d been open when I went. So I’ll retain more or less the original ingredients from Camaje’s recipe below.

Potluck Pad Thai (adapted from Camaje restaurant’s Pad Thai recipe)
(makes 6-8 servings)

8 oz Thai rice stick noodles, softened in hot water for a few minutes and drained
3 Tb tamarind paste
2 Tb palm sugar, crushed or chopped
1/4 cup fish sauce (optional)
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 lb shrimp or chicken (sauteed until just cooked) or tofu (firm or fried)
2 eggs, lightly beaten (optional)
2 cups bean sprouts, rinsed
1 red pepper, diced (optional)
4 scallions, sliced on a bias
1/2 cup peanuts, chopped
1/2 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 lime, cut into wedges

Dissolve the palm sugar in tamarind paste and optional fish sauce, heating it in a pan if necessary. Heat a heavy saute pan over high heat and add enough oil to coat the bottom. Add eggs, stirring to scramble them. Add garlic and stir until aromatic, about 15 seconds. Add the noodles, reserved sauce and toss to coat. Add tofu, chicken or shrimp and bean sprouts and stir to heat through. Remove from heat and add scallions, peanuts and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges.

Cost Calculator
(for about 6-8 servings)

8 oz rice stick noodles (from 16 oz bag for $0.99): $0.50
1/4 bottle of “Pad Thai Sauce” (at $1.29/bottle): $0.31
1/2 bunch cilantro (at $0.99/bunch): $0.50
1/2 cup chopped peanuts (at $4.00/canister): $0.70
2 cups bean sprouts: $0.40
1 red pepper (at $3.49/lb): $2.00
4 scallions: $0.85
1 lime: $0.35
1 package firm tofu: $2.00
3 cloves garlic: $0.05

Total: $7.66

Health Factor

Two brownie points — it doesn’t get much better than this. What I especially like about this fresh, colorful dish is how easy it is to adapt it to the vegan or carnivorous diets, without losing the main tenets of the dish. Peanuts, for instance, crunchy bean sprouts and fresh scallion and cilantro. You could even add more vegetables than I’ve taken the liberty of doing with Camaje’s recipe–there weren’t any peppers in the original. Plenty others would do well here, too.

17 Responses

  1. Yvo
    |

    Yummy… love the gorgeous picture, too! Delicious! I love pad thai…

  2. Deborah Dowd
    |

    I love pad thai and it really does lend itself to those nights when you just don’t know what to make the sweet-savory-spicy combination is great when you just don’t know what you want. And it can be meatless or can suck up any leftover tidbits of meat you may have.

    You have a great site and I am so glad that Deb mentioned you on Smitten Kitchen or I may not have found you!

  3. ariane ben eli
    |

    this is a great recipe! cathy, i adore your blog and wish you continued success!

  4. Susan from Food "Blogga"
    |

    Just found your site–like the cost calculator idea! Food just doesn’t get much better than Pad Thai, does it? Looks so colorful and delicious!

  5. Mary
    |

    What does “sliced on a bias” mean?

  6. cathy
    |

    Mary – it just means that it’s cut diagonally for longer, thinner slices. Purely aesthetic!

  7. Kate
    |

    I found my tamarind paste at Kalustyan’s on 28th and Lexington (along with every other known ingredient on the planet)

  8. Mary
    |

    hey cathy- really enjoy your site. nice tone and good looking food! i tried this recipe the other night – i think it came out well, but have never cooked with fish sauce before and WHOA. i have never smelled a funk like that, honestly thought i might be sick when i was mixing up the sauce. tell me, is this normal? i’d like to make it again but don’t know if i (or my husband) can take the odors arising from the pan. should i just skip it and use pre-made sauce, or is there a way around it?

  9. Krys
    |

    Hey Cathy,

    I was directed to your blog by Meredith. I made pad thai for the Oscars last year! Now it’s become tradition in my group of pals for the Oscars host to make thai. Because it’s a Black Thai affair. Oh puns. Anyhoo, thought I’d comment and say I really like your blog!

  10. Krys
    |

    Oh yeah, I wanted to let you know that the Whole Foods by Union Square has tamarind paste. I’d go to Kalyustan’s instead though. They also have galangal and kaffir lime leaves if you want to make your own curry paste. Yup.

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  13. Val
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    I just finished reading your book and have been perusing your website. Had some veggies to use up tonight so I followed your receipe for Chicken and Asparagus albeit I used broccoli. And the Pad Thai? Yum, although I didn’t have all the ingredients. Used peanut butter instead of peanuts, sweet chili sauce instead of…well, I didn’t have Tamarind paste so I just made it up. Both are quite tasty and I have lunch/dinner for the next couple of days.

    I love cooking and so does my boyfriend, but we got in the habit of going out. I already know we are going to be eating in more as we get just a tad more frugal than we have been in the past. We also love to entertain, and I am motivated to do more of it at home. Thanks for the push!

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