Pad Thai Sans Nuts

December 7, 2011

Sitting by the roadside on a summer’s day
Chatting with my messmates, passing time away
Lying in the shadows underneath the trees
Goodness, how delicious, eatin’ goober peas
Peas! Peas! Peas! Peas! Eatin’ goober peas! Goodness how delicious, eatin’ goober peas!
~P. Nutt (A.E. Blackmar)

Earthnuts, ground nuts, monkey nuts, pygmy nuts, pig nuts—peanuts are not nuts.

Despite the name, peanuts (Arachis hypogaea) are a dehiscent legume in the family Fabaceae, related to peas, lentils, chickpeas and friends. They are composed of a curved single seed-bearing carpel that splits open along two seams.

Native to South America, peanuts were domesticated some 8,000 years ago when pre-Columbian cultures dined on and even depicted them in art. When Spanish conquistadors invaded Mesoamerica they found the Aztecs growing peanuts the locals called tlalcacahuatl.

In the early 16th century, Portuguese traders took peanuts from South America to Africa where they became highly revered and flourished as a staple crop. Around colonial times, slave traders reversed the course and shipped them along with wretchedly stowed human cargo to North America. In one central African language, Kikongo, the word for peanut is nguba which morphed into the vernacular “goober” peas.

From the better half of the scientific name, hypogaea derives from Greek for underground, combining hypo “under” + gaia Greek “earth.” An annual herbaceous plant growing some 1′-2′ tall, peanuts begin as an above ground orange-veined, yellow-petaled flower. The flower is produced near the base of a slender pedicel (peduncle, stalk) that curves downward.

After pollination, the flower withers and cells beneath the ovary begin to develop a peg that helps force the ovary into the ground. The curved pedicel elongates, bends down to kiss the moist earth, and then forces the ovary underground. The peg has a cap of cells that protects the delicate ovary as the pedicle thrusts into the fertile soil. Continued growth then plunges the ovary under further where a tiny embryonic plant with two tender, fleshy halves develop, and the mature fruit becomes a legume pod. What a resplendent, albeit a bit forcible, act. Oh baby, oh baby.

Once the subterranean, seed-bearing pod matures, functional roots and photosynthetic leaves emerge. The pod coat changes color from white to a reddish brown with wrinkled, veined shells that are constricted between pairs of usually two seeds per pod. The entire bush, including root growth, is removed from the soil and the pods are allowed to dry. After the peanuts have dried sufficiently, they are threshed, removing the pods from the rest of the bush. The beans are then roasted to become those dried, wrinkled, vein-cloaked, seed bearing carpels we know and love.

Today, thousands of peanut cultivars are grown, with the more common groups being Spanish, Virginia, and Valencia. A source of monounsaturated fats, peanuts feature an array of other nutrients including vitamin E, niacin, folate, protein, manganese, and even lifespan extending resveratrol. Not only do peanuts contain oleic acid, they are rich in antioxidants.

Centuries old, now ubiquitous Pad Thai (“fried Thai style”) was originally made with a noodle brought by Vietnamese traders to the ancient Siamese kingdom of Ayutthaya. It became popularized in the 1930’s as part of a campaign of nationalist fervor and an effort to reduce rice consumption as the economy had become overly dependent on rice exports. The trendy dish has so many variants, particular as pertains to the progression of ingredients into the hot wok with timing being everything.

I might suggest you arrange the ingredients mise en place and not make too many servings at once until you find your dance steps.

PAD THAI

6 ozs rice stick noodles (banh pho)

3-4 T tamarind paste
1/4 C nước mắm Phú Quốc (fish sauce)
1/3 C honey
2 T rice vinegar
Pinch of red pepper flakes or Thai chile powder

3 T peanut oil
1/2 C chopped scallions, chopped
2-3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2-3 large eggs, beaten
1/2 small head Napa cabbage, cored and finely shredded
1 C mung bean sprouts
1/2 lb small shrimp, peeled
4-6 ozs tofu, cut into 1/2″ strips

1/2 C roasted peanuts, chopped
1/4 C fresh cilantro, stemmed and chopped
2 limes, quartered

Mix 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 or Thai chile powder and set aside, keeping warm.

Put noodles in a large bowl and add hot water to cover. By far, the trickiest part is the soaked noodles. They should be just tender yet still solid, not completely expanded and soft. When in doubt, undersoak.

Put one tablespoon peanut oil in a large wok over high heat and when oil shimmers, add the tofu and cook until crisp and lightly brown, moving constantly, about 1 minute. Remove the tofu from the pan to a small bowl and set aside.

Keep wok hot, add the remainder of peanut oil, then scallions and garlic and cook for about a minute. Add eggs to pan, and once they begin to set, scramble until just barely done. Add cabbage, shrimp and bean sprouts and continue to cook until cabbage just begins to wilt and shrimp begins to turn pink.

Add drained noodles to pan along with tamarind sauce and tofu. Toss everything together to coat with sauce and combine well. When noodles are softened and warmed through, serve in shallow soup bowls, sprinkling each dish with peanuts and garnishing with cilantro and lime wedges.

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Sesame Noodles

November 13, 2009

Simsim! (Open Sesame!)
~Ali Baba, One Thousand and One Arabian Nights

A sprightly small app, a light side, or midnight fare—even savored as the sun is rising. Then, they could be bowls of noodles delicately chopsticked while seated lotus style amongst warm sheets with skin bathed in afterglows…or at least one disappointing dish which should leave sooner rather than later and be shortly forgotten. So much depends on company and chemistry.

Sesame (Sesamum indicum) is a flowering plant native to sub-Saharan Africa which is cultivated for its multicolored, oleaginous seeds which grow in pods. The pods eagerly burst open when they reach maturity. Sesame seeds have been revered for centuries and their uses in the kitchen are legion, almost lacking in regional and cultural boundaries.

While the prep is simple and open to rendition, there are layered flavors of thin egg noodles in a piquancy of peanuts, biracial sesames, vinegar and chiles. You can toss in ways as suit your passion(s) and palate(s).

COLD SESAME NOODLES

1 lb thin rice noodles (vermicelli shaped)
6 T sesame oil

1/4 C peanut oil
8 green onions, discarding greens, thinly sliced on the diagonal
2″ piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
4 plump and fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
3 t sambal oelek (chili paste)
1 t dried red chile pepper flakes
1 T honey
1 T light brown sugar
3/4 C creamy peanut butter
4 T rice wine vinegar
6 T soy sauce
1/4 C chicken stock, already heated

1 T white sesame seeds, toasted
1 T black sesame seads, toasted
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into matchstick juillenne
Fresh cilantro leaves, stemmed and coarsely chopped

Cook the noodles in a large, heavy pot of boiling unsalted water until barely tender and still firm. Drain immediately and rinse with cold water until cool to halt the cooking process. Drain the noodles again and transfer to a wide bowl. Toss with the sesame oil, cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

In a small saucepan, heat the peanut oil over medium low. Add the green onions, ginger, garlic, and chili paste. Cook and stir for a minute until soft and fragrant. Whisk in the chile flakes, honey, brown sugar, peanut butter, vinegar, soy sauce, and stock until the sugar is dissolved and the peanut butter has smoothed out. Toss the noodles with the peanut sauce and sesame seeds until well coated. Serve at room temperature or chilled. Garnish with the cucumbers and cilantro.