Such a glorious, whirlwind culinary weekend it's been! The wonderful visit with our friend Donald continued, as the 3 of us attempted to fit 2 years worth of chatter into the past few days! We wanted to give Donald a taste of Atlanta's culinary scene, so on Friday afternoon Donald and I had lunch at my favorite nearby Indian restaurant, and then as soon as Zach came home from his clinical rotation that evening we headed off to downtown Atlanta, first to play trivia and have a round of pumpkin ale at a local pub,
(Zach with his "wait a second, why are you taking my picture?" expression... :-)
and then to savor a glorious late night meal on the patio of our favorite Greek restaurant, Avra Taverna.
(Donald and Zach having a lively debate...
while we all assembled and nibbled the most transcendent gyro... Needless to say, we had tons of leftovers, for more than one night of delicious memories!)
On Saturday night we had a big group of friends over for dinner, and Donald and I shared the cooking duties in our noisy, festive kitchen - I fixed my eggplant salad and some simple turnip greens, with Kahlua pecan pieandclassic pecan pie for dessert, and Donald treated us to a glorious polenta dish with an apple cream sauce!
Of course, throughout the weekend Zach and Donald scheduled plenty of catching-up and video game playing time as well, while I happily kept pace with the piles of dishes resulting from the nearly constant cooking... :-)
My personal favorite meal of the weekend, though, emerged from the simple act of rummaging through the pantry. October's No Crouton's Required event, created by Lisa of Lisa's Kitchen and Jacqueline of Tinned Tomatoes, and hosted this month by Jacqueline, celebrates soups and salads created by ingredients already inhabiting our pantries. When I first read the theme I was immediately struck by Jacqueline's wisdom in choosing such a topic. While I am frequently fueled by spontaneous grocery store inspiration, just as often the humble ingredients waiting patiently in our blessedly stocked pantries can work unsurpassed magic! Such was the case on Thursday night, when I happened to pick up a jar of tamarind paste I've had in our pantry for quite some time (luckily, it has a rather long unopened shelf-life), and realized that I've never quite figured out how to use this mysterious ingredient. Since, fortuitously, a professional chef happened to be sitting in our living room, I was able to ask for Donald's advice, and he immediately and generously suggested that we figure out a dish with tamarind paste for supper that night.
Now first, let me preface that this dish is not Pad Thai. I'm not entirely sure what goal we had in mind when Donald and I opened a bottle of wine and started mixing a sauce while we waited for Zach to arrive home, but the end result, although the ingredients do bear a resemblance to Pad Thai, is actually a salad - much thicker than Pad Thai, spicier and not as sweet, and well, really just not Pad Thai at all... but oh mercy, is it delicious.
Here's to cooking with friends, and the inspiration one can conjure from the depths of the pantry!
Rice Noodle Salad with Tamarind Sauce
4 T tamarind paste
2 T fish sauce
2 T rice vinegar
1 T lime juice
1 T red chili paste (you can use any spicy red pepper paste you have on hand, from Korean Gochu-jang to North African/Middle Eastern Zhug or Harissa)
6 oz rice noodles
2 T canola oil
1 lb. firm tofu, cut into 1/2" X 1" strips
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 eggs, beaten
4 green onions, minced
1/2 cup chopped roasted peanuts
~ Mix the tamarind paste with a little bit of hot water - just enough to make the tamarind paste pliable.
~ Whisk the fish sauce, rice vinegar, lime juice, and red chili paste all together into the softened tamarind paste, until well combined, and set aside.
~ Cook the rice noodles in a large pot of boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain the rice noodles, and immediately plunge them into a large bowl of cold water to keep them moist.
~ Drain the rice noodles right before you're ready to heat your work.
~ Set a wok over high heat for a few seconds until the bottom and sides of the wok are heated. Swirl in the canola oil, coating the sides well, followed by the tofu, the onions, and the garlic. Season the wok's contents with salt and pepper while you're tossing the wok frequently, to keep everything moving about and browning on all sides.
~ When the tofu strips are heated through and nicely seared on the sides, pour in the tamarind sauce and toss to coat, then immediately add the rice noodles and beaten eggs to the wok, and stir/toss rapidly so the eggs will thoroughly coat the noodles while they cook. If some of the tofu strips break up in the process all is still well - they will simply become part of the sauce. When the noodles are heated through, your eggs will be cooked and your dish is nearly ready to serve!
~ Remove the wok from the heat, stir in the green onions and peanuts, season to taste with salt, pepper, and more red chili paste, and serve the salad hot or cold!