Karl’s Pad Thai

Sauce adapted from a The Spruce recipe

Wife Jan is in the habit of seeing and buying sauce packets in the store and coming to me and saying, , “Make this dish!” Once I have made it from a commercial sauce—if the dish is any good—I will try to learn to make the sauce for myself. Pad Thai is one of those dishes.

Karl’s Pad Thai

Karl’s Pad Thai

Unless you are at a fairly high-end restaurant, pad Thai can be a very disappointing meal. The noodles are frequently gummy and the sauce can be “unbalanced.” A good Thai sauce should be a balance of sweet, sour, salty, and spicy flavors.

The sauce for pad Thai has four common ingredients to make up these flavors. Sugar—preferably palm sugar—for its sweetness. Tamarind paste for its sour taste. Fish sauce and chilies for their salty and spicy flavors.

Finding good tamarind for the sauce can be a challenge. While you can buy the whole pods and scrape the sticky gooey pulp out with a spoon, but it is easier to find a jar of tamarind paste. Look for one that has no added MSG or preservatives—the ingredients should list only tamarind and water.

The preferred noodles for pad Thai are rice noodles. Rice noodles are white and translucent and come in a wide variety of sizes. For this dish, you want the ones usually labeled “rice stick” that are about an eighth of an inch wide—the size of linguine noodles.

Besides the rice noodles and sauce  many of the on-line recipes seemed to have very few vegetables—beyond a bit of green onion and bean sprouts. There were even articles about how unhealthy this dish is—because it has too much starch and sugar. Wife Jan is always trying to get me to add more vegetables and so my version of this dish is different from most in that way.

After Dinner Note: This was only a fair, first attempt. My sauce came out much lighter than the packet of commercial sauce. I had also cut back on the sugar—being diabetic—and my sauce was overly sour. Daughter, Eilene, Also complained that it was not nearly spicy enough. Gee, I will just have to keep trying—my family will be so sad.

Karl’s Pad Thai


8 oz. rice stick noodles

Pad thai sauce

2 Tbs. tamarind paste
1 Tbs. hot water
2 Tbs. fish sauce
1 Tbs.  soy sauce
1 tsp. Sriracha or chili garlic sauce
⅛ tsp. white pepper
1 Tbs.  brown sugar (or palm sugar, if you have it)

4-5 green onions
1½ cups napa cabbage (5-6 large leaves)

½ cup cilantro stems, minced
1 cup bean sprouts, separate uses

1-2 cups medium raw shrimp, shelled and deveined
½ cup cooked chicken

2 Tbs. peanut oil

1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1 lime, cut into wedges
¼ cup peanuts


1. Put the rice stick noodles into a bowl and cover with cold water.

Tip: Put a plate over the noodles to keep them submerged. At first the hard noodles will not fit in the bowl, but as they soften you will eventually get them all under the water.

Note: Rice noodles cook extremely quickly. If you soften the noodles for pad Thai in hot water, they will overcook and get gummy as you stir fry them with the sauce.

2. Cut the green onions into one inch pieces and keep the white and green parts separate.

3. Stack the napa cabbage and slice them—crosswise—into half inch strips, keep the thick and leafy bits separate.

4. Coarsely chop the leafy parts of the cilantro and reserve them for later.

5. Mince the cilantro stems.

6. Heat the oil in a deep skillet or wok.

7. Stir fry the white parts of the onion and thick parts of the cabbage, until soft and starting to pick up some color.

8. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pan and add the shrimp and chicken to the hole in the center of the pan.

Tip: Spread the shrimp out—so that they are all laying flat on the bottom of the pan.

9. Sear the first side of the shrimp for two minutes.

10. Add the minced cilantro stems and half of the bean sprouts to the pan.

11. Stir fry the vegetables and meats for another two minutes.

11. Add the sauce mixture and toss to coat the pan’s ingredients.

12. Drain and add the noodles.

13. Continue cooking for another two minutes, tossing the vegetables and noodles until everything is well coated with the sauce and the pan is fairly dry.

14. Transfer the pad Thai to a serving bowl and provide fresh bean sprouts, cilantro, lime wedges and peanuts on the side for dinners to add to their individual bowls.

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Filed under Main Dishes, Sauces and Spices, Seafood, Shrimp

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