Everyone has a few go-to recipes, things you can throw together more or less while sleepwalking through the kitchen simply because you've made them so many times before. In our house we have paht thai at least once a week, although we call it "peanut noodles" because that is what Jack named it when he was three and trying to request it for dinner one night.
(So what's your staple dish? There's a comments box down below, don't be shy...)
This is a pretty straightforward version; my one modification is to add peanut butter while stir-frying the noodles. Hardly authentic, I know, but using a couple tablespoons of creamy peanut butter on the hot noodles naps them with this wonderful, rich coating that then grabs all the other ingredients/garnishes and makes a really rich, satisfying one-pot meal. All modesty aside, I make the best paht thai I've ever had
I use really wide rice noodles, but really any kind works; I've even used the super skinny thread-style noodles in a pinch. Also, if I don't have tofu or any meat on hand to throw in, I just scramble an extra egg. I nearly always make this with shrimp (wild caught, not farmed, especially not farmed in Viet Nam or Thailand -- shudder). It's also very good with tofu, which I slice and pan fry in oil and garlic until the edges crisp a bit.
1/2 lb rice stick noodles
2T coarsely chopped garlic
8 shrimp, peeled & deveined (or tofu, chicken, etc)
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2T fish sauce
2T peanut butter
4T chopped peanuts
2 c bean sprouts
8 scallions cut into 1-inch lengths, then split if you feel up to it
large handful cilantro
2 limes, quartered lengthwise
Soak noodles in very warm water to cover, 20 min or until soft. Heat pan over med-hi heat. Add 2 T oil & swirl to coat; when 1 bit garlic sizzles in pan, add rest and toss until golden, about 30 sec. Add shrimp and toss until pink and opaque, 1 min. Remove & set aside.
Add egg and tilt to coat pan in thin layer, then scramble into lumps, salt lightly, set aside.
Add remaining oil, heat 30 sec, add softened noodles. Spread and pull noodles into a thin layer covering surface of pan. Then scrape into clump again & gently turn over. Repeat until noodles soften into ivory ringlets. Add fish sauce, turn & stir; add peanut butter, turn & stir; add sugar and peanuts, turn & stir.
Reserving some for garnish, add bean sprouts, cilantro, green onions & shrimp-egg mix. Cook 30 more seconds, turning often. Serve. Garnish with cilantro and bean sprouts, more peanuts, and squeeze lime quarters over each plate. When I have some on hand I sprinkle those tiny salty dried shrimp on top too.
This papaya salad is a terrific accompaniment to paht thai, but actual green papayas are hard to come by. I usually find them at H-Mart or other Asian groceries; green papayas are a separate papaya variety that is green, permanently -- they never turn red. I have, however, used less-than-ripe regular papayas, and the results are still very good, though a good bit jucier. I've also done this salad using finely shredded cabbage and carrot for a kind of Thai cole slaw, and it's great that way. Warning: very very spicy.
Green Papaya Salad
6 fresh kii noo chillies, whole, or 2 serranos thinly sliced
1 T coarsely chopped garlic
1 t coarsely chopped shallot
1 small hard green papaya, shredded, -- 2 cups, or 2 c finely shredded carrot and cabbage
9 green beans cut in 2 inch lengths
1 tomato in wedges or 7 cherry tomatoes, quartered lengthwise
1 t palm sugar or sugar
1/4 t salt
2 T fish sauce
Combine chillies, garlic and shallot in mortar and grind until broken down but not mushy.
Add papaya and pound until stiff shreds become limp and soft, about 3 min. Use a spoon to scrape and turn over as you work. (If you use a regular papaya skip this step and begin pounding papaya when you put in the green beans).
Add green beans and pound to bruise them. One at a time add sugar, salt, & fish sauce, pounding in between. Squeeze in juice from 1/2 lime then add pieces and pound those too. Add tomatoes and pound gently so they release some liquid.
Taste sauce in bottom of mortar and correct for balance of sour, hot salty and sweet. Transfer salad to platter with slotted spoon and drizzle on some remaining sauce, serve.