Picture courtesy of The Cook's Thesaurus where you can find good descriptions and pictures of Asian Rice Noodles.
Living in a household that is neither vegetarian nor particularly ecumenical in its tastes has been providing me with the opportunity to stretch my cooking in different directions. When in my own kitchen, I have learned to rely on dishes based on fresh vegetables, beans and grains, as much as possible, usually in world-inspired dishes like curries and Japanese rice dishes, Italian soups, Middle eastern and Mexican-inspired dishes, and adaptations of comfort foods I enjoyed here in Nova Scotia as a child.
But now I often find myself cooking for a number of people who may include decided carnivores, flexitarians, those who prefer a traditional British diet relying heavily on roast meat and fried everything else, teenagers who like pizza, tacos, and chili, and me, the lone wheat-and-dairy-allergic vegetarian at the table.
I don't often find something that everyone likes, but occasionally I hit on something enjoyed by the majority. I can tell you categorically that none of those dishes includes tofu, however much I wish they did. I enjoy tofu and love the protein and texture it adds to dishes, though by and large the North American tofu we get here is abysmal by Japanese standards. Why? I think it is largely a matter of freshness. Japanese tofu doesn't hang around the store for weeks, getting sour and tough in the process. What's left over after a few days is generally used to make ready- to eat take home food, prepared fresh in every supermarket daily.
Not marked three weeks forward (or more), with tofu in prepared "cheeses" and fake meat products probably kept around for months, as a conservative estimate.
So if not tofu, then what? One of the foods that is most satisfying for wheat-hungry but intolerant eaters are noodles. Noodles can be hearty and filling and nicely take the place of the hole in the stomach that a lovely crust of bread or pasta used to fill.
If they are good ones, that is.
I have tried quite a few since I got on a gluten-free diet and let me just say that many of them were spongy, gummy, and unworthy of the sauce which which they were lovingly bathed. Luckily, I live in Canada, and to the extent that I can find Tinkyada pasta, I am a happy pasta cook and consumer. It is neither gummy, nasty nor even a little unworthy and I am pleased to say that the brown rice pasta, dressed with a nice sauce, passes the taste test for even the most finicky eater in the household.
Love, love, love it with an easily thrown-together Pasta Inferno sauce of extra virgin olive oil with lots of garlic, and a few dried red peppers sauteed in it, and occasionally a couple of small-chopped tomatoes, seasoned with salt and pepper and sometimes a conservative amount of grated Parmesano Reggiano, or vegan parmesan topping.
As good as Tinkyada is, lately I have been experimenting with rice noodles from Asia, inspired by a Thai cookbook I found in my daughter's cupboard. To my surprise I have discovered that Thai rice stick noodles, when fancied up in a Pad Thai dish, with nuts and vegetables and a homemade sweet and sour peanut sauce, almost outshine the Italian style noodles that I had come to think of as as good as it could get.
Whether because these are a new love, or because I have discovered an Asian grocery near where I am staying, I have taken to preparing this dish regularly with a bit of breathless anticipation, and find it satisfying, tasty and requested-again. Hope you will treat yourself ,too, since it's easy and fast to make and might make it onto your family's favourite menu. Give it a try and be sure to let me know if you have any favourite variations!
ขอให้เจริญอาหาร! (koh hai cha-roen ar-harn) Bon appetit!
VJ-Style Vegetarian Pad Thai with Root Vegetables
(With a nod to The Blue Elephant Cookbook by John Hellon and Tony Le Duc.)
My main contribution to this dish is to make it a bit more Canadian friendly by replacing some of the hard to get and over the 100-mile limit vegetables for sweet and tasty root vegetables and cabbage that are available in the winter here. I also use natural peanut butter which is one thing I always have on hand, when ground peanuts might be scarce. My aim is to present a dish that is easily made with whatever you have on hand, if you have stocked your cupboard with some packages of the rice noodles, which keep a long time, yet still has the essence of Pad Thai.
You can vary the vegetables. Parsnips are delicious. Mild turnip would also be good. You should aim for 3 or 4 types of vegetables used a bit sparingly, maybe a cup or two in all. Traditionally, you would use ground peanuts but I have used peanut butter, dissolved in the juice or some added warm water. I also recommend adding extra small amounts of juice or water as you cook so the noodles are not too dry. You can also reheat by adding small amounts of water in a similar way, loosening the noodles, stirring gently, and not allowing them to stick to the pan.
1 Package Thai Rice Stick noodles (about 150 g, 3mm wide/1/8 " wide)
Large bowl of cold/ hot or boiling water (out of the kettle)
Soak the rice noodles in cold water to cover for about 10-20 minutes until softened, then drain.
If you are using wider or thicker noodles or the noodles haven't softened enough, then drain them and cover them with hot or boiling water for 5-10 minutes to complete the softening. They shouldn't be as soft as cooked noodles, but flexible and easy to put in the pan.
Meanwhile, add these to a large frying pan or wok:
3 Tb. cooking oil
2 whole garlic cloves
1-2 whole dried red peppers (depending on your taste, you might want more or less)
1 Tb. tamari soy sauce
1 Tb. sugar
half a lemon, squeezed or half a grapefruit or other fresh citrus. (Lime is good.)
2 big tablespoons natural chunky peanut butter
2 Tb (or to taste) sweet and sour sauce
1 julienned parsnip
big handful or two shredded cabbage
2 green onions chopped
any other root vegetables you have, such as carrots, 1 med julienned
If you have fresh bean sprouts you can use a few good handfuls to replace or in addition to the cabbage
a handful of cashews, if you have them
Saute the garlic cloves in the oil, toasting on all sides and take them out before they scorch. Put them on a wooden or other board and mash them with a fork to add back to the pan later. The red pepper can be toasted at the same time, taking it out along with the garlic.
After taking out the garlic and red peppers add the soft noodles to the pan and saute on high heat for a few seconds in the oil. Add the tamari, sugar and lemon or other juice. Give it a stir and add the root vegetables, cabbage, and sweet and sour sauce, mashed garlic. Smash the peanut butter into the pan with the back of a spoon or fork, squeezing juice or pouring a small amount of water on it as you do so and making sure to dissolve and distribute it throughout the noodles. Alternatively, you could dissolve it in a cup with a small amount of hot or warm water and pour it over the noodles. Stir fry for a few minutes just until the vegetables are almost tender, add the nuts and fry for a few seconds, then toss in the green onions and bean sprouts if you are using them.
Mix everything together and taste it. I usually add a bit of salt (and pepper) at this point to taste, and more water or juice if it's looking too dry. A nice squeeze of lemon or lime or even grapefruit juice at this point freshens the taste.
Put the whole thing on a platter, or serve from the pan, family style, garnished with a few more green onions, roasted ground peanuts, if you have any, and lime or lemon wedges if you wish.
Sorry I have no picture, but will post one as soon as I make this again, very soon!
For the Sweet and Sour Sauce:
3 oz (1 small) onion chopped
5 cloves garlic
3 1/2 oz pineapple (fresh or canned in juice)
5 oz. sugar
2 Tb cider vinegar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup tomato ketchup
Put the onion, garlic in a food processor or blender and puree it. Add the pineapple if needed to get it going, or after the first two ingredients and turn the whole thing into a liquid. Put into a saucepan, add the other ingedients and turn on the heat. Simmer it for a few minutes until it looks melded, then put it into a jar ( I like small mason jars for this) and refrigerate it for up to a week. It makes about a cup or so.