You’ll find that most recipes for this simplest of Asian foods offset the creamy peanut sauce with a dash of cayenne, a splash of sriracha, or perhaps something more blistering like Thai chili peppers. That style of heat is irreplaceable, but a combination of Indian long pepper and Grains of Paradise can help punch up the volume.
This recipe is best considered more of a general guide than a rigorous set of instructions. You can use brown sugar and/or honey instead of jaggery, apple cider vinegar instead of rice vinegar. But the more authentic ingredients you can use, the closer you’ll get to the Thai ideal. Don’t skip the cilantro.
12 ounces of your preferred noodle type (udon, rice, linguine)
One or more of the following:
- 1 package tofu
- 2 cups shaved cabbage
- 2 carrots, julienned
- 1 cucumber, diced (seeded and peeled too, if necessary)
- 1 bunch of green onions, chopped
- a handful of cilantro, roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup chopped peanuts
For the tofu marinade:
- garlic and or ginger
- soy sauce
- sesame oil
For the sauce:
- 1/3 cup creamy natural peanut butter
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon jaggery
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon garlic, minced or pressed
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 1/4 teaspoon Grains of Paradise
- 1/4 teaspoon Indian long pepper
1Cut the tofu—sometimes I cut dice-sized cubes, other times triangles—and put them in a marinade container, a bowl or a container with a tight-fitting lid. If your cooking soon, a bowl is sufficient; if you’re doing morning prep the Tupperware is convenient. Splash on a tablespoon of sesame oil, 3 cloves of crushed garlic, and a tablespoon of fresh grated ginger. Finish with a generous splash of soy sauce, and toss to cover.
2To make the sauce, first place the jaggery in a mug or measuring cup and add the water. (This is a great thing to do in the morning, as jaggery takes a little time to soften. If you’re pressed for time, heat will accelerate the process.)
3Add the peanut butter to a steel or glass bowl large enough to mix the pasta with the sauce and—ultimately—to accommodate the vegetables and tofu. Add the liquid ingredients to the peanut butter one at a time, whisking after each until the peanut butter is diluted enough that lumps won’t be an issue. At this stage you can add the remaining sauce ingredients, mixing well.
4Drain the marinade from the tofu, and set aside. In a wok or skillet stir fry your tofu. I prefer peanut oil for this, and try to get a nice golden skin on two sides. Depending on the pan, this can require 2 batches. When complete, put all of the tofu in the skillet, turn up the heat, and pour the marinade into the skillet, mixing so that every last bit of flavor is seared into the tofu. Set aside.
5While the tofu is frying, cook your noodles. (If you do this beforehand, be sure to add a little sesame oil so they don’t stick too much.) Otherwise, deposit the drained noodles directly in the peanut sauce while still warm.
6Mix in the vegetables and tofu.
7Chopped cilantro and roughly chopped peanuts are more than a garnish, adding nice flavor and texture notes. Sesame seeds also make a nice garnish; black sesame seeds are particularly striking.