By Contributing Editor, Holland Koehler
I can still hear the clanking of busy spatulas on Khaosan Road in Bangkok. It was there that I could watch vendors prepare their traditional Thai dishes faster than I thought possible. For less than $2 I could get a heaping boat of Pad Thai so delicious, it made me forget I was sitting in miniature plastic furniture on a street corner.
While dreaming of this scene, I remember that fall is a time for hearty meals with deep flavors and spice. Squashes are great conductors of savory sauces and condiments, but spaghetti squash is key when substituting for pasta. Pad Thai is one of those dishes that you could have 100 times and still want to order it whenever presented with the opportunity, and swapping out the traditional noodles for spaghetti squash is a welcomed change.
Begin by preheating the oven to 375 and cutting the squash in half; save one half for another purpose. Prepare the other half in the oven (30 to 45 minutes). When cooked, shred the inside with a fork and set aside. You should have 3 to 4 cups of spaghetti squash tendrils.
Make your sauce
For the sauce, whisk together the tamarind glaze and fish sauce. Add 2 tablespoons of vegetable stock, to thin out the sauce. Heat for 2 to 3 minutes and whisk until everything is combined into a thin sauce. Taste your sauce and add a bit more veg stock to loosen. Measure out about 1/4 cup to be used for this recipe; the remaining sauce will keep refrigerated for several weeks.
Ingredients for the pad Thai: Prepare in advance
1/2 medium spaghetti squash (from a 3-pound squash)
2 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil
8 ounces extra-firm tofu, diced
2 tablespoons corn starch
1/2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 large eggs, whisked
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 scallions, cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces
1/2 cup bean sprouts, plus more to serve
2 tablespoons chopped peanuts, to serve
Lime wedges, to serve
Cilantro, to serve
Red pepper flakes, to serve
Toss the tofu in the cornstarch until all the cubes are evenly coated with a gummy layer of cornstarch. Set aside while you prep the rest of the ingredients; make sure all the ingredients are prepped before you begin cooking. Place a large dinner plate next to the stove to hold ingredients as they come out of the wok.
Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat and add a tablespoon of peanut oil and quickly swirl the pan to coat. Add the tofu and stir-fry until golden on all sides, 2 to 3 minutes and set aside in plate. Turn down heat and add another teaspoon of oil.
Add onions and cook until carmelized, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to the plate with the tofu. (Adjust the heat as needed if your pan starts smoking.)
Warm another half tablespoon of peanut oil in the pan and swirl to coat the bottom. Whisk the eggs one more time and then pour them into the bottom of the pan. Cook, tilting the pan to create a very thin omelet. When the eggs are almost set, begin nudging and cutting them with your spatula to create big curds. Transfer the cooked eggs to the plate with the tofu and onion. (Adjust the heat as needed if your pan starts smoking.)
Warm the last half tablespoon of peanut oil in the pan and add the garlic. Fry for less than a minute until the garlic become fragrant and add all of the spaghetti squash and spread into a single layer. Cook for 30 seconds or so, then stir the squash and spread it back out again. Repeat a few times until the squash is warmed and beginning to show golden, roasted color.
Drizzle 2 tablespoons of the pad Thai glaze around the outside edge of the pan, then stir it into the squash. Continue stirring until the sauce evenly coats all the squash. Give it a quick taste and add up to 2 tablespoons additional sauce if needed.
Add the scallions and bean sprouts to the pan with the squash, and stir to combine. Add the tofu, onions, and egg back to the pan and stir to combine. Taste again, adding additional sauce if needed.
Transfer the pad Thai to a large serving plate and top with chopped peanuts, cilantro, red pepper flakes, and lime wedges. Serve immediately with a pitcher of Thai Basil Gimlet made with fresh cut basil from your herb pot.