Friday, August 11, 2006

tamarind, pad thai, and other Asian adventures

tamarind paste
I desperately miss the wide spectrum of Asian cuisine available in San Francisco. My mouth is watering just thinking of my long-lost favorites: Zurich does have a decent showing of "ethnic cuisine", but every place I've tried so far has two big problems:
  • too expensive - every dish I've listed above (except Burma Superstar) costs less than $8. In Zurich, you're more likely to pay at least CHF18 for the most basic curry. And this is for chow, not fine dining. This is not the The Slanted Door.
  • too generic - most of the "Asian" restaurants I've seen in Zurich serve Chinese, Thai, and Indian (or other bizarre combos) instead of just one specialty, just like a bad chain restaurant in the states. Perhaps it's a strategy to appeal to the continental palate? It's not surprising that food is average and the different styles end up tasting quite similar. Yes, various Asian cuisines use similar ingredients and similar methods of preparation. But it's the small differences make each cuisine unique and interesting.

I fully admit that I have barely explored the restaurants in this town. So I optimistically hope there are some gems to be discovered. But each time I do go out, I'm so disappointed. Doesn't anyone in this town have a Tandoor so I can get some decent naan?

mise en place ... pad thai is served

Anyhoo... I'm attempting to make home versions of these favorites (the naan was a failure - I've tried twice and decided, for now, it's impossible). I'm a little intimidated by the unfamiliar ingredients and cooking techniques - but anything for flavor. I started with Pad Thai, an obvious, but much beloved Thai staple and I couldn't be happier. It was so much easier than I expected and it tasted great, if not authentic. I'm definitely working this into my regular rotation. The predominant flavor of Pad Thai comes from tamarind paste, which I was able to source from an excellent Asian market on the corner of Josefstrasse and Hafnerstrasse, behind the HB, a few doors down from El Maiz (which I'll save for another posting). It's not quite 99 Ranch, but it can cure some cravings. They also serve lunch, popular and not bad, but still mixed cuisine.

Up next... Is it possible to make good, dare I dream, great Phở Chín Nạc at home?


P.S. What's up the term "ethnic cuisine"? How different does the other ethnicity have to be considered ethnic? If you live in France, is German food "ethnic"? It would also be interested how long it takes "ethnic foods" to be incorporated into the local cuisine, to the point where they are no longer considered "ethnic"? I'm also curious about how other ethnic groups linguistically refer to "American" food. If you live in China, are hamburgers labeled "ethnic cuisine"? Unfortunately, I suspect they just call it fast food.


Pad Thai Recipe

From Cook's Illustrated...A wok might be the implement of choice in restaurants and the old country, but a large 12-inch skillet (nonstick makes cleanup easy) is more practical for home cooks. Although pad thai cooks very quickly, the ingredient list is long, and everything must be prepared and within easy reach at the stovetop when you begin cooking. For maximum efficiency, use the time during which the tamarind and noodles soak to prepare the other ingredients. Tofu is a good and common addition to pad thai. If you like, add 4 ounces of extra-firm tofu or pressed tofu (available in Asian markets) cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 1 cup) to the noodles along with the bean sprouts. Serves 4 as a main dish

2 tablespoons tamarind paste or substitute (see Tamarind options in related articles)
3/4 cup water (boiling)
3 tablespoons fish sauce (available at Migros or Coop, look near soy sauce and coconut milk)
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil
8 ounces dried rice stick noodles , about 1/8 inch wide (the width of linguine)
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon table salt
12 ounces medium shrimp (31/35 count), peeled and deveined, if desired
3 cloves garlic , pressed through garlic press or minced (1 tablespoon)
1 medium shallot , minced (about 3 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons dried shrimp , chopped fine (optional)
2 tablespoons Thai salted preserved radish (optional)
6 tablespoons chopped unsalted roasted peanuts
3 cups bean sprouts (6 ounces) (available at Jelmoli grocery in a refrigerated section behind the fruit counter, along with other speciality Asian food ingredients. I think they're called "Sojabohnensprossen")
5 medium scallions , green parts only, sliced thin on sharp bias
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves (optional) (called Koriander here, available at most groceries)
lime wedges

1. Soak tamarind paste in 3/4 cup boiling water for about 10 minutes, then push it through a mesh strainer to remove the seeds and fibers and extract as much pulp as possible. Stir fish sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, cayenne, and 2 tablespoons oil into tamarind liquid and set aside.

2. Cover rice sticks with hot tap water in large bowl; soak until softened, pliable, and limp but not fully tender, about 20 minutes. Drain noodles and set aside. Beat eggs and 1/8 teaspoon salt in small bowl; set aside.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet (preferably nonstick) over high heat until just beginning to smoke, about 2 minutes. Add shrimp and sprinkle with remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt; cook, tossing occasionally, until shrimp are opaque and browned about the edges, about 3 minutes. Transfer shrimp to plate and set aside.

4. Off heat, add remaining tablespoon oil to skillet and swirl to coat; add garlic and shallot, set skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until light golden brown, about 1 1/2 minutes; add eggs to skillet and stir vigorously with wooden spoon until scrambled and barely moist, about 20 seconds. Add noodles, dried shrimp, and salted radish (if using) to eggs; toss with 2 wooden spoons to combine. Pour fish sauce mixture over noodles, increase heat to high, and cook, tossing constantly, until noodles are evenly coated. Scatter 1/4 cup peanuts, bean sprouts, all but 1/4 cup scallions, and cooked shrimp over noodles; continue to cook, tossing constantly, until noodles are tender, about 2 1/2 minutes (if not yet tender add 2 tablespoons water to skillet and continue to cook until tender).

5. Transfer noodles to serving platter, sprinkle with remaining scallions, 2 tablespoons peanuts, and cilantro; serve immediately, passing lime wedges separately.


Astrid said...

Hi Tanya, your blog is looking great! I love the photo of your zucchini bread recipe and also the step by step on the Pad Thai. Thanks for sharing!

Inga said...

Hi Tanya, I made this last week - it was sooo easy & tasty! (next time I think I'll make more "sauce", though). I was able to get everything at the Thai store - nice one-stop shopping! Serves 4? More like 2 that are REALLY craving good Thai food!

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