When I post recipes I try to be as accurate as I can when it comes to the amount of time it will take to make that recipe. Obviously there is a bit of wiggle room because not everyone chops vegetables at the same pace. But, if I consider something to be “quick & easy,” you can rest assured that it is a doable recipe on a weeknight.
Unfortunately, not everyone who posts recipes feels this way about timing. There is a big push to create recipes that are quick, especially if they can be branded as “30 minutes or less.” If you look closely at some of these so-called “fast” recipes, you will see that they hide a lot of time in the ingredients list. You see, if the recipe lists “1 bell pepper, chopped” in the ingredients, the recipe time doesn’t usually include the time it takes to chop the pepper. It is assumed that you are starting your timing after all the ingredients are prepped and ready.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a personal sous chef to do all the grunt work for me. I could buy pre-chopped vegetables, but they are always more expensive than buying whole vegetables and doing the chopping yourself. Plus, I get most of my vegetables from a CSA, and there is no pre-chopped option–usually they are still covered with dirt right out of the ground!
A few weeks ago I read the book “Dinner: The Playbook.” It is authored by Jenny Rosenstrach who also writes one of my favorite blogs http://dinneralovestory.com. There are lots of good tips in this book about how to make dinner happen (even on crazy activity-filled weeknights), but one of my favorites is this: be your own sous chef.
What does that mean? Well, Jenny points out that there are a lot of little things that we can do ahead of time so that when it comes time to make dinner, we’re already partially there. This means pre-chopping your vegetables. It is totally up to you when you do this–if you have a toddler who naps (like me), you might do this during naptime. Maybe you’re a night owl (unlike me) who prefers to chop after the kids go to bed. You could chop in the morning or even on the weekends when you might have a few extra moments to spare.
The original source for this recipe lists this as “20 minute Pad Thai.” Ha ha. I pre-chopped all my veggies & assembled all my non-perishables on the counter before cooking (another tip from “Dinner: The Playbook”), and it still took closer to 30 minutes. That was totally fine for me, and having all the prep work done ahead of time made the actual cooking process much more enjoyable. Any tip that makes me a little less crazy on a weeknight is a keeper in my book.
Pad Thai (adapted from http://www.halfbakedharvest.com/20-minute-pad-thai/)
1 red or orange bell pepper
4 cloves garlic
1 large handful snow peas
1/4 cup unsalted roasted peanuts
1/3 cup cilantro (optional for all of you cilantro-haters out there)
10 ounces flat rice noodles
3 Tablespoons fish sauce
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
2 Tablespoons packed brown sugar
5 Tablespoons peanut oil
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon sambal olek (Thai chili paste)
1 pound raw shrimp
Do your prep (can be done ahead of time, put each ingredient in a plastic bag & refrigerate if necessary): Cut the bell pepper into slices. Finely chop the garlic. Wash the snow peas and remove any stringy ends (I bought mine pre-washed and trimmed because I don’t get snow peas in my CSA & they weren’t much more expensive than unwashed peas at my grocery store). Chop the peanuts. Chop the cilantro. Thinly slice the scallions (white & green parts). Cut 1 lime into wedges & juice the other lime.
Boil 4-5 cups of water. Place the noodles in a large bowl.
In a small bowl stir together the fish sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, 2 Tablespoons peanut oil, 3 Tablespoons lime juice, chili powder & sambal olek. In another small bowl beat the eggs.
Pour the boiling water over the noodles in the large bowl (they should be completely covered). Let sit 10 minutes (while you do the next step) and drain.
Heat 1 Tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the beaten eggs and cook, stirring, until they are almost completely cooked and scrambled. Remove from skillet into a large bowl and cover to keep warm. Add another Tablespoon oil to the skillet and increase heat to medium high. Add the bell pepper and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes. Add the snow peas & garlic and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Remove the vegetables from the skillet and add to the eggs in the covered bowl to keep warm. Add 1 Tablespoon oil to the skillet. Cook the shrimp until they are pink (about 3-4 minutes).
Add the vegetable-egg mixture back to the pan. Add the drained noodles and fish sauce mixture and toss to combine. When everything is warmed through, transfer to a serving platter. Top with peanuts, cilantro, scallions & serve with lime wedges.
Time: 45 minutes (about 15 for prep and 30 for cooking)
Notes: You could swap out the shrimp for cubes of tofu or strips of chicken if you want, just increase the cooking time since they take longer to cook than shrimp. I also like to serve with bean sprouts if I have them.