Valentine’s Day always makes me think of Pad Thai. Sounds weird but it’s true. It’s a funny, somewhat racy Mike and Julie story (not that racy) but if you don’t want to hear about one of our dates a few years ago….that’s you’re choice but you’ll be missing a laugh! No worries if you don’t, just scroll towards the bottom for my recipe for Valentine’s Day Vegan Pad Thai.
Still with me? Good. This story is hilariously awesome.
Ok, here it goes…several years ago I get home from a long day at work and an hour-long physical therapy session for back issues. My husband is waiting for me in the kitchen. Did I mention it was Valentine’s Day? My husband appearing an excited, expectant puppy announces that we’re going someplace new for Valentine’s Day, and we’re leaving in 12 minutes! K!
My mind starts racing. Where are we going? Will I like the food? What should I wear? Dressy or casual? I am not dressed up at all. I am dressed for comfort in black pants, T-shirt, and black Crocs. I am wearing what I affectionately refer to as my Home Depot Lesbian outfit or HDL for short. (Please…btw…do not get all outraged at this as I went to art school and half of my friends were gay. So calm…) Anyway, I run upstairs and realize I have enough time to change my shirt to a purple long sleeve that I know my husband likes. I also run a brush though my hair and re-apply lipstick. “Let’s go!”, I hear shouted from downstairs.
We’re now driving in the dark to a place he’s never been to. My husband is trying to gauge my reaction so far, and he soon realizes that I am panicked about what’s the appropriate dress. He tells me it’s a casual restaurant. I have no idea what he’s getting us into. So after only a few more moments of silent terror on my part, he tells me where we’re going. Lemongrass Fusion Bistro. It’s in the Short North. Inward sigh. The Short North in Columbus, Ohio is the hip happening center of town where there are lots of fun things to do. Art galleries. Kitchy cool, boutique type stores of all kinds. Up and coming restaurants. It is full of young students and affluent, urban people. I immediately begin searching for Lemongrass Fusion Bistro on my iPhone and the big cursive line at the bottom of the webpage reads…Casual Elegance.
I want to kill him. “Casual Elegance!” I try to explain that ‘Casual’ in the Short North is not the same as ‘Casual’ at Cracker Barrel. My husband is a man, and not a gay one so he is completely confused by what the difference is. We finally get there and find a lucky parking spot still available. We enter this restaurant and push our way in to a very tight, standing room only entryway. We have reservations for 8pm and are there just in time. Right. I’m held pushed up against the wall in my HDL outfit topped off by my husband’s wet from snow blue fleece jacket I ‘borrowed’ from him years ago. A never-ending stream of young hotties parades in wearing tiny little skirts and 4 inch heels trying to get a seat at the bar. The air is awash in the smells of asian food, expensive perfume, alcohol, and hairspray.
I feel so out-of-place and want to just die. Here we are two fat people wedged in among about 100 (no lie) gorgeous skinny people in an area about the size of a medium length hallway. I am rolling my eyes every few seconds. My husband keeps forcing himself up to the podium to check when we’ll be seated. He eventually just stayed there. I think because the little asian hostess at the podium was nicer to him that I was.
At almost 9pm, with my blood sugar dropping, we are finally led among tightly packed rows of tables to that back of the restaurant where we were seated. Finally. At that point I didn’t care how I out-of-place I felt and looked around at a packed dining room full of mostly very beautiful people. Our server immediately brings us our appetizers and mine was vegan spring rolls. They are magnificent and all is now well with the world.
Here’s the funny part
I look up from my spring roll and smile at my now wonderful (again) husband…and he’s sweating and flushed. He’s making furtive glances at the table next to us. I mouth the words, “What’s wrong?” Michael directs me with eye signals to look at the table next to us. I turn and see an extremely beautiful, early twenty-ish couple. They like all of us are on a Valentine’s Day Date. I turn back to him. Ok? Whatssup?
Now it’s my husband’s turn to mouth words. Without voice, he points out the inappropriateness of the young woman’s dress. He’s crazy. It is a designer ‘Little Black Dress’ comprised of a tiny skirt (of course), and a cropped top with artful cutouts. The problem? She was a lefty and each time the young woman, who was no more than 3 feet from us, raised her fork to eat, my husband got a glimpse of the crease beneath her breast under her armpit. My husband was having some sort of event due to a flash of the beautiful young women’s ‘side boob’.
I started laughing and couldn’t stop.
I told my husband when I could breathe again that if I had a body like that, I’d be wearing that dress, too. As it was, if I were to wear a cropped top like that, the best I could do was flash him my ‘under boob’. I cracked myself up and again I remembered why I love this man so much. Soon after, they served me the first Pad Thai I’d ever eaten and that first bite…I’ll never forget it. It was like buttaaahh!
Since then, we visit Lemongrass Fusion Bistro a couple of times a year – usually on a Saturday afternoon. It’s safer.
So, inspired by a recent visit, I decided that re-creating my fav at Lemongrass Fusion Bistro was in order for Valentine’s Day.
Here we go…
First the key to Pad Thai flavor is Tamarind. From Wikipedia: Tamarind’s “…fruit has a fleshy, juicy, acidulous pulp. It is mature when the flesh is coloured brown or reddish-brown. The tamarinds of Asia have longer pods containing six to 12 seeds, whereas African and West Indian varieties have short pods containing one to six seeds. The seeds are somewhat flattened, and glossy brown.
The tamarind is best described as sweet and sour in taste, and is high in tartaric acid, sugar, B vitamins, and, unusually for a fruit, calcium.”
Here is the Tamarind that I purchased at Whole Foods.
In addition to Tamarind, it’s about the crushed peanuts.
Pad Thai is easy to make. It is however, many different parts all coming together ideally at the same time. Like most dishes, particularly vegan, it’s all about the prep so start prepping. I did crispy tofu in mine and began baking it. You can make in a cast iron skillet, but I prefer to bake. I prep a large, lipped baking pan with a drizzle of olive oil and place in a 375 degree oven to warm the oil. I drain and slice the tofu into cubes. Removing the hot pan from the oven, I place the tofu pieces spaced out on the pan and into the oven to bake for 45 minutes, flipping the tofu after 30 minutes.
While the tofu is baking, I begin browning the peanuts a bit and prep the veggies. I used carrot and zucchini ‘noodles’, sugar snap peas, broccoli, red cabbage, and green onions. Squeeze fresh limes for a quarter cup of juice. Remove the browned peanuts from the heat, and once cooled, you can crush in a zip lock bag using a rolling-pin or finely grinding them in a chopper.
When the veggies were prepped, I put a large pot of water on the stove to bring to almost a boil. My rice Pad Thai noodles take from 6-8 minutes to cook (prepare your according to your package instructions) and I want to undercook by a couple of minutes so I can finish in the pan sauce.
In a large Pyrex measuring cup or small bowl, mix the sauce ingredients: tamarind, Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, white miso, Sriracha, fresh lime juice, brown sugar, and warm water. Mix until blended and the miso is mostly mixed in. Set this aside.
Your tofu has probably already been flipped to the other side and baked for another 15 minutes by now and is ready to be removed from the oven. Remove from the pan and keep warm.
When your water is almost to a boil, gently put your rice noodles into the water and very gently with tongs push down into the water. Turn off the burner and allow the noodles to cook for 6-8 minutes. In researching recipes, I kept seeing warnings to not overcook the noodles as they easily get gummy. I had no problem with the noodles, I think because I turned the burner off and allowed the noodles to soften in the water while I prepared everything else. Every few minutes, gently stir to keep the noodles from sticking and gauge how the noodles are cooking.
Things move quickly now. In a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, cook the garlic for 30 seconds or so. I then added veggie broth and into that I put about half of the green onions, half of the carrot and zucchini noodles, the sugar snap peas, and the broccoli. Pour the tamarind-lime sauce mixture into the pan and coat all of the vegetables. Cook this for about 4-5 minutes to allow the broccoli and sugar snap peas to steam. You may need to add a bit more veggie broth to keep the sauce from drying out and remember the rice noodles will absorb quite a lot of the sauce as it cools.
I like a lot of peanuts in the sauce so added a bit extra here in the sauce. You may just choose to garnish the Valentine’s Day Vegan Pad Thai with the peanuts instead.
Add in the now almost cooked rice noodles to the pan and gently toss to coat with the sauce.
Add the fresh cilantro into the mix and gently stir in.
A few last things…my husband does not like red cabbage so after I plated his part of this meal, I added red cabbage into the pan. Also, the peanuts have been toasted in a pan and ground up. I did quite a lot of peanuts as I find this to be one of my favorite parts of Pad Thai.
Time to plate it up. Just swirl in some pad thai noodles and vegetables into a bowl. Remember to top with warmed protein if using, for him it was shrimp, and me my baked tofu. Top with a bit too much peanuts! Don’t forget an extra squeeze of lime and enjoy!
How did I make Valentine’s Day Vegan Pad Thai…healthier?:
- High protein tofu is used to pump up the nutrition on his beautiful dish, peanuts provide even more!
- A smorgasbord of vegetables are used here!
- There is about a tablespoon of oil used to make this dish, and there is a bit more used in baking the tofu which makes this while not exactly low fat, it is a much more low oil meal than the restaurant version
- If you use Bragg’s liquid Aminos, this is a gluten-free meal with the Pad Thai Rice Noodles
- For the Pad Thai Sauce:
- ½ - 1 tablespoon Tamarind
- 5 tablespoons Bragg's Liquid Aminos
- ¼ cup fresh lime juice - for me, this was the juice of 3 limes
- 4 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons mellow white miso
- 1-2 tablespoons Sriracha, depending on your level of desired heat
- ¼ cup warm water
- 1 cup of crushed roasted peanuts
- For the Pad Thai and baked tofu:
- 1 14 oz package of organic extra firm tofu, drained and cut up into cubes
- ½ teaspoon Penzey's Lemon Pepper
- 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 3-4 teaspoons of squeeze organic minced garlic
- ½-1cup vegetable stock
- 6 green onions, chopped
- 1-2 cups broccoli florets
- 1-2 cups sugar snap peas
- 3 small carrots, peeled into carrot noodles
- 1 small zucchini, peeled into zucchini noodles
- fresh cilantro leaves, to taste
- ½ cup red cabbage, chopped into small pieces
- 8 ounces of Rice Pad Thai Noodles
- ***FYI: this meal comes together very quickly despite having many steps and much of it is done while prepping the next step. The bake time includes the baking of the tofu.***
- Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees
- Prepare a heavy baking sheet with 1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and place onto the oven to warm the oil.
- Drain and slice the tofu into even cubes.
- Remove the heated pan and place the tofu cubes evenly on the pan. Sprinkle with Lemon pepper and with a rubber spatula, make sure each piece of tofu has a bit of oil on top. Bake for 30 minutes.
- While tofu is baking, if desired, place peanuts in a medium heat pan and brown until color is seen on the nuts. About 10 minutes. Watch carefully as they can easily burn. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
- Mix in a large pyrex measuring cup or small bowl all the ingredients for the sauce until mostly evenly blended. Set aside.
- Begin washing and prepping your vegetables. Clean and prep carrots and zucchini to make veg noodles, chop your green onions and red cabbage. Wash your broccoli and sugar snap peas. Squeeze limes for fresh lime juice.
- When peanuts are cool, place either in a zip lock bag and with a rolling pin, finely crush or grind in a nut chopper. Set aside.
- When tofu has been in the oven 30 minutes, turn each piece with tongs and bake for an additional 15 minutes.
- In a large pot, bring water almost to a boil and place gently in the water the rice noodles stirring gently with tongs. Turn off the burner and allow the noodles to cook for 6-8 minutes being careful not to over cook. The noodles will finish cooking in the pan. Carefully stir every few minutes so the noodles do not stick together.
- Heat a heavy bottom pan and drizzle in extra virgin olive oil.
- Squeeze in garlic and cook for about 30 seconds.
- Pour in vegetable broth and begin adding vegetables to the pan.
- Add the sauce mix and toss the vegetables to coat and cook on medium for 4-5 minutes.
- When the noodles are al dente, add with tongs to the pan and carefully toss to distribute the sauce and vegetables. Cook for another few minutes until noodles are done.
- Sprinkle on cilantro leaves and toss gently to distribute.
- Remove the tofu from the oven.
- You can either place the tofu into the pan to coat with sauce, or begin to plate the Pad Thai into bowls or plates and then top with the tofu (or other protein).
- Garnish with peanuts and wedges of lime.
This recipe is loosely based on several pad thai recipes most notably, Isa’s.
The post Valentine’s Day Vegan Pad Thai…and the Story of The Little Black Dress Cutouts appeared first on Designing Vegan. If you make this dish, I’d love to see your pad thai and any changes you made to suit you. Post to Instagram or Facebook and tag it with #designingvegan
P.S. My husband announced this evening that tomorrow night we have plans. It’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow. He of course will not tell me where we’re going. This always ends well. 🙂
Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!