I stopped by the Wat Suan Dok in Chiang Mai, Thailand for Monk Chat, a thrice-weekly session offered by Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya Buddhist University (more familiarly known as MCU). Here is where monks, typically students at the university, practice their English. And we travelers get a first-hand account of the daily life of monks and their work in Thailand. It’s a superb and rare opportunity that provides incredible insight into the world of Theravada Buddhism that predominates in this region.
Each week Monk Chat runs two-day meditation retreats. At the end of the month it offers a four-day retreat, which coincided nicely with my travels there in May. I was eager to get off the tourist beat for a few days to enjoy quiet and contemplation in a rural setting far from the hustle and bustle of busy Chiang Mai. So I signed up, paid the modest 1,000-baht fee (about $30 USD) and was promptly handed a white t-shirt and baggy trousers.
What a better world it would be if everyone had their own Pad Thai recipe and cooked it regularly for others. The perfect combination of sweet and sour, crunchy and chewy, hot and cool. Asian home cooking at its best.
I have my own version, more complex but nevertheless delicious, and I am drawn to this recipe for its simplicity.
Pad Thai, an Easy Stir-Fry
4 ounces fettuccine-width rice stick noodles 1/4 cup peanut oil 2 to 4 tablespoons tamarind paste 1/4 cup fish sauce (nam pla) 1/3 cup honey 2 tablespoons rice vinegar 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste 1/4 cup chopped scallions 1 garlic clove, minced 2 eggs 1 small head Napa cabbage, shredded (about 4 cups) 1 cup mung bean sprouts 1/2 pound peeled shrimp, pressed tofu or a combination 1/2 cup roasted peanuts, chopped 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro 2 limes, quartered
Put noodles in a large bowl and add boiling water to cover. Let sit until noodles are just tender; check every 5 minutes or so to make sure they do not get too soft. Drain, drizzle with one tablespoon peanut oil to keep from sticking and set aside. Meanwhile, put tamarind paste, fish sauce, honey and vinegar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and bring just to a simmer. Stir in red pepper flakes and set aside.
Put remaining 3 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; when oil shimmers, add scallions and garlic and cook for about a minute. Add eggs to pan; once they begin to set, scramble them until just done. Add cabbage and bean sprouts and continue to cook until cabbage begins to wilt, then add shrimp or tofu (or both).
When shrimp begin to turn pink and tofu begins to brown, add drained noodles to pan along with sauce. Toss everything together to coat with tamarind sauce and combine well. When noodles are warmed through, serve, sprinkling each dish with peanuts and garnishing with cilantro and lime wedges.