Pad See Ew (Sweet And Savory Noodles)

I adore this recipe from The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook (Sasquatch Books 2009). There, the authors suggest using pork, chicken, beef or shrimp). All are delicious, but just to see how it would turn out, I tried using extra-firm tofu. It's great, so that's what I've included here. If you decide to use meat (and I recommend you do, sometime, if you're a meat eater), freeze it for 30 minutes or so and then cut it into 1/8-inch-thick slices.

Makes 2 servings (to double, stir-fry in 2 batches for best results)

7 ounces large dried "rice sticks" (wide rice noodles)

8 ounces extra-firm tofu

8 ounces Chinese broccoli

Boiling water

3/4 cup vegetable oil, plus more as needed

3 cloves garlic, minced (1 tablespoon)

1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce, divided, plus more for serving*

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons sweet soy sauce (also called kecap manis)*

1 tablespoon oyster sauce*

1 tablespoon sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar, plus more for serving

Ground white pepper

Crushed dried red chilies for serving

*Available at Asian markets. Note: A number of fish sauce brands are gluten-free (San-J and Squid are among the more widely available ones). As for oyster sauces, I understand Lee Kum Kee Panda Brand (it has a distinctive green label) and Choy Sun are gluten free, and there are others. If you prefer to substitute, you can use tamari for the fish sauce and tamari plus your sweetener of choice for the oyster sauce, in a pinch.

Soak the dried rice noodles in hot tap water for 6 to 8 minutes. They should be soft and pliable but not falling apart. Tip into a colander over the sink, rinse under cold running water and drain.) Set aside.

Cut the tofu into 1/2-inch slabs, then cut the slabs into 1/2-inch strips. Halve those crosswise, and you should have chunks of tofu 1/2-inch-by-1/2-inch-by-2 inches or so.

Separate the Chinese broccoli into leaf and stem pieces. Cut the stems into 2-inch pieces and halve the thicker ones lengthwise, as they take longer to cook. In a heatproof bowl, soak the broccoli in boiling water until wilted but not fully cooked, about 30 seconds. Rinse under cold running water and drain.

Preheat a large wok or skillet over very high heat for about 30 seconds. Swirl in the oil and heat until smoking. Add the tofu in one layer, followed by the garlic and 1/2 tablespoon of the fish sauce to flavor the tofu. Let the tofu sit long enough to develop a little golden-brown crust on one side. Push the tofu to one side and crack in the eggs. Let the eggs cook undisturbed until the whites start to turn opaque, about 15 seconds, then stir gently to mix with the tofu. Push the tofu and egg mixture up one side of the wok.

Toss in the noodles and spread them across the bottom of the wok to make as much contact with the hot surface as possible. That's how you get the nice charred noodle bits and the unmistakable burnt flavor peculiar to foods fried in a searing hot wok. Add more oil if the noodles stick to the wok. Mix the noodles with the tofu and eggs, and stir everything swiftly around the wok.

Add the remaining fish sauce, the sweet soy sauce, oyster sauce and sugar. Sliding your spatula to the bottom of the wok, turn and toss all the ingredients to coat evenly with the seasonings. Add the Chinese broccoli and vinegar and toss with a couple more flourishes until well mixed and the broccoli is cooked through but the stems are still crunchy, 1 to 2 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings if desired.

Divide the noodles between 2 plates and sprinkle with white pepper. Serve with fish sauce, vinegar and crushed chilies on the side.

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