Friday, February 8, 2013

Paleo Pad Thai from Well Fed

The first time I heard of Melissa Joulwan was through an article the Austin American Statesman did on her where she featured her Paleo Pad Thai recipe.  I love Pad Thai, but for some reason, I just didn't believe that her version could live up to everything I love about Pad Thai which I guess is the noodles.  

Since the new year, I have been eating pretty strict paleo and started to have a craving for Pad Thai.  Since I don't include nuts in my regular diet, technically while completely paleo, her Pad Thai recipe was still a cheat for me.  I decided it was far better for me to have this version than really mess up and have the real thing.  

So, without further ado, let's test Melissa Joulwan's Paleo Pad Thai!

Making the Pad Thai really requires you to make 4 different recipes from Well Fed:  The Grilled Chicken Thighs, The Sunshine Sauce, The Spaghetti Squash, and then finally, the Pad Thai.  I've made each of these recipes with the exception of the Spaghetti Squash into individual review posts.  I'll link to them as I go through summaries of the recipes.  

This is a mega post, so hang in there through the end.  

Recipe #1: Grilled Chicken Thighs, Well Fed, page 29:

Knowing that I'd be making the Pad Thai for dinner, I got an early start grilling these thighs.  I wonder what my neighbors think waking  8 AM on a Sunday morning to the smell of grilled chicken.  Here is a summary of the recipe, but here is my full review.

In short, you heat your grill, gather some ingredients and trim a little fat if you so desire. 

You then season the chicken thighs.  

And grill them.

Until they have beautiful grill marks just like the picture in the book!

Accessibility and Cost of Ingredients:  You should be able to find all of the ingredients for this recipe at your big box grocery store pretty inexpensively.

Preparation and Cooking Time: The stated preparation time for this recipe is 5 minutes.  It took me about 15 minutes to prepare the chicken (cutting off extra fat and seasoning).  The grill was pre-heating while I prepped the chicken.  The stated cooking time is 10 minutes.  It took me 12 minutes to get all 3.5 pounds of my chicken cooked.  

Clean Up: Everything that I used to prepare the chicken went into the dishwasher.  If you haven't tried using a rimmed baking sheet when applying spices to meat, give it a try as it really does contain the spice mess.  I kept my grill on for about 5 minutes after taking the chicken off and gave it a good scrubbing with my grill brush so it would be clean and ready to go for my next grilling session.  

The Paleo Review:  Thumbs Up!  Though I made these for the Paleo Pad Thai I was going to make later in the day, I tasted the chicken right off the grill and it was awesome!  The chicken was juicy and flavorful.  The either spices or the really hot grill must help with the grill marks because, I've never had results like this.

If you don't have an outdoor grill or the weather isn't right for grilling, the book gives alternate cooking instructions.  

If you're looking for an easy recipe for making a tasty batch of protein, this is a solid recipe.  

Recipe #2: Sunshine Sauce, Well Fed, page 45:

My second step towards making pad thai was preparing a batch of Sunshine Sauce.

Here is a link to my full review post this recipe. 

In short, you gather some ingredients, add them to a food processor, and process.

Accessibility and Cost of Ingredients:  Melissa recommends Sunbutter brand sugar free sunflower seed butter.  The day I shopped for this recipe, I was at Sprouts, a more health food oriented grocery store.  I haven't checked to see if my big box has any sunflower seed butter, but I'll check the next time I go and update the post.  

Sprouts did have some varieties of Sunbutter brand, but none were sugar free.  The MaraNatha brand I got was  sugar free and seemed to work just fine.  It is a little on the expensive side at $4.99 a jar. There were other brands, but most contained either sugar or soy.  The Sunbutter brand wasn't much cheaper.  You should be able to find the rest of the ingredients, with the exception of the coconut aminos and/or coconut milk at your big box grocery store. 

Preparation Time: The stated preparation time for the recipe is 5 minutes.  You're preparation time will depend on the speed at which you can get the ingredients accurately measured and processed.  It took me 10 minutes.     

Clean Up:  I pre-soaked my chopper bowl to make sure it came out clean in the dishwasher.  Otherwise, everything I used to make the sauce went into the dishwasher.  

The Paleo Review:  Thumbs Up!  Before using this batch in my Paleo Pad Thai, I stuck my finger in and tasted it.  My first thought was that it tasted like what I expect Thai food to taste.  This bode well for Pad Thai!  It has a nutty flavor with a spicy tanginess that is quite tasty.  I think it would have been lacking something without the dash of cayenne.  

Luckily, for me, while the sauce is good, its not something that I'm going to feel driven to make or have on hand for anything other than making a batch of Pad Thai.  Perhaps my brain is tempering my like of this recipe as I know I simply cannot have it on a routine basis.  

If you can tolerate more nuts in your diet, perhaps it would be good enough to you to do so!

Recipe # 3:  Roasted/Steamed Spaghetti Squash

The recipe in the book calls for her Roasted Spaghetti Squash from Well Fed.  She says she likes roasting the spaghetti squash to get a better texture to the "noodles."  To make the squash this way according to her stated prep/cooking time would take 37 minutes.  With everything else that I was preparing for this recipe, I decided steaming my Spaghetti Squash would do just fine.  The online version of the recipe just says cooked spaghetti squash, so I felt safe just steaming it.  Maybe one day I'll try roasting just to see if there's a difference, but not on this day.  I did a mini-post on how I prepare steamed spaghetti squash at the end of this post.  

It took me 15 minutes to prepare the spaghetti squash for the Pad Thai.

Recipe #4:  Paleo Pad Thai, Well Fed, page 63

I hope you are still hanging in there, but here we are, finally, Paleo Pad Thai!

Having prepared all of the recipes need to make this recipe, I gathered them and the other ingredients.  

First, I heated my 12-Inch saute pan over medium-high heat.  While it was heating, I beat up my eggs and coconut aminos in a small bowl.  

Once the pan was heated, I add coconut oil.  Once the oil was melted, I poured the eggs into the pan.  Be ready to quickly move the eggs around to evenly coat the bottom of your skillet because they will cook fast!  Per the recipe instructions, I lowered the heat to medium, put the lid on and cooked for 3 minutes.  

After 3 minutes, I checked the egg and it had browned, so I flipped it carefully using a turner.  But for that little bit at the bottom I managed to flip this huge thin egg pancake without it falling apart.

I let the egg cook another 2-3 minutes checking for brownness.  Luckily, the combination of oil and a good ceramic pan, allowed the egg to slide onto a cutting board.

I carefully sliced the egg in to strips. I used more of a rocking motion to slice the egg rather than dragging my knife across the egg.  I noticed when I tried to drag the knife, even though it was very sharp, it started to rip the egg a bit.  Be careful not to rip your egg!

The picture on the web version of the recipe shows the egg cut into smaller pieces, so I did that.  

Before starting anything else, based on the speed that the egg cooked, I decided to cut up my remaining ingredients.  I turned off my burner during this time as there was no reason to overheat an empty pan.

I sliced my sugar snap peas in to thin strips. I don't know why I've never thought to slice up sugar snap peas before.  I'm going to use them this way in vegetable stir fries.  

I thinly sliced my onion.  

And I diced the grilled chicken thighs.  

Once I was finished chopping, using the same 12 inch skillet, I heated some coconut oil on medium-high heat.  Once the pan was hot and the oil was melted, I added the peas and onions to the pan.  Per the recipe instructions, I cooked them for 2 minutes.  

I then added all the squash, egg strips, and chicken to the pan, mixed everything up, and cooked it for three minutes.

Once it was heated through, I finally added the Sunshine Sauce.  

After mixing the sauce in well, I kept the Pad Thai on the burner until it was heated through and I turned off the burner.

As the Pad Thai heated through, I quickly chopped up some green onions, cilantro and quartered a lime to top my dish.  

Here is my finished dish.

Accessibility and Cost of Ingredients:  You should be able to find all of the ingredients for the Pad Thai at your big box store with maybe the exception of the Sunflower butter.  

Preparation & Cooking Time:  The stated preparation time for the Pad Thai recipe is 15 minutes.  This is pretty misleading.  I'll say that 15 minutes is an accurate preparation time estimate for washing and chopping up the vegetables/ingredients that you need specifically for the Pad Thai, but it does not account for the preparation/cook time for the Chicken, Sunshine Sauce, and Spaghetti squash.  If going with her concept of a "weekly cook-up" there could be a situation where you have these things ready to go to make a Pad Thai, but that would be a rare happening at my house.  Even if you make these things in advance, its still time spent in the kitchen.  Now that my rant is complete, let's break down my total preparation/cooking time for the Pad Thai.

1.  Making Grilled Chicken Thighs:  Total Prep and Cooking time: 27 minutes
2.  Sunshine Sauce: Total Prep and Cooking time:  10 minutes
3.  Steaming Spaghetti Squash: Total Prep and Cooking Time: 15 minutes
4.  Pad Thai Assembly:  Preparation Time:  15 minutes.  

Pad Thai Assembly Cooking Time: The stated cooking time is 5 minutes. One of the things I love about Well Fed is the pinpoint accuracy Melissa gives with respect to giving cooking time on each of the steps of the recipe.  I followed her timing recommendations and came to a total of about 16 minutes of total cooking time.  

Grand Total Preparation and Cooking Time for the Complete Paleo Pad Thai: 1 hour 23 minutes.  You could maybe shave 10 minutes off this if you got your spaghetti squash into the microwave while grilling the chicken.  With all of that said, given how long many of my weekend roasts and other single dishes have taken to prepare, just under 1.5 hours isn't bad.  Just don't go into the kitchen and think you'll be done in 20 minutes, even if you've already prepared some of the contributing recipes.  

Clean Up:  Make sure you have an empty dishwasher waiting as you make all of the components of this dish.  It felt like a lot of dishes but really it wasn't too bad given the amount of cooking I did.  Its great that you can use the same skillet for the Pad Thai assembly.  I was able to put everything in the dishwasher except for my skillet.  

The Paleo Review:  Thumbs Up!  Oh how wrong I was to doubt that this recipe could fulfill my Pad Thai cravings.  It was just as good if not better than any non-paleo Pad Thai I can remember.  Yum. Heavenly Pad Thai, Yum.  

If you make it, don't skip on the garnishes.  For me, the fresh lime, cilantro, and green onions gave it those final flavors that made the dish.  

The recipe makes just enough for 2 servings.  To save me from my cheat leftovers, I brought the remaining portion to my non-paleo friend of the blog, Martha, for lunch the next day.  She said it was "DELICIOUS!" and "Surprising!  Pad Thai without noodles, the best thing ever!"    

It was a long road to Paleo Pad Thai heaven but well worth it!  If you haven't tried this yet, do it!