#YelpCooks: Pad Thai Fit For The Elite

Last weekend, I participated in an event organized by Andrea Banks, the Yelp Ottawa Community Coordinator. For those of you who don't know about Yelp, it's a website and an app designed to help people find local businesses like restaurants, hair stylists and mechanics. Yelp allows people to rate and review different companies and services and provides a platform for business owners to communicate with their customers.  

Yelp has some very dedicated reviewers, who are just regular folks, that contribute to Yelp by writing many, many reviews of countless local business. These people are called "Yelp Elites". From time to time local Yelp coordinators will host fun appreciation events for the Elite crew. I'm a huge fan of Yelp, I use it all the time, and although I have not yet reached Elite status, I've written a few reviews and have attended a few Yelp events myself. 

This past winter, while attending a Yelp fitness event, I met Andrea and, almost immediately, we knew we had to work together someway, somehow. We had a few brainstorming sessions and then went to visit to the West End Well, Ottawa's newest co-operative grocery store and café, as a possible event venue.  The Well offers a wide range of dry goods, organic produce, local products, and in-house prepared foods. Plus, the Well has a bakery, with fantastic homemade breads, and a liquor license, which means you can have a glass of wine or one of the Well's signature brews while doing your groceries. We also met Nate, the General Manager, and Sam, the Kitchen Manager, and they were both really keen on working together. It was the perfect storm and we decided we would host the very first #YelpCooks event at the Well.  

On the day of our event, nearly thirty Elite members and several new Yelpers piled into the Well's cozy dining area. As the participants were getting settled in, my amazing boyfriend/sous chef Jeremy and I were back in the kitchen, chopping, prepping, making sauces, baking tofu, and soaking rice noodles.  During the demo participants made their own fresh spring rolls, using rice paper wraps and an array of fresh produce from the Well. I showed them how to make an easy (and delicious) homemade peanut dipping sauce and they got to enjoy some with their fresh spring rolls.  I also gave the participants a little pad thai tutorial.  They all crowded around the kitchen and they had a chance to see how the dish was prepared, ask questions about the process and learn about the ingredients we used. Most importantly, the participants got to try heaping samples of pad thai. 

Everybody had a fun time, learned a few things, and we're all excited about the prospect of hosting another similar event in the near future. Stay tuned for that! In the meantime, here's the recipe for my pad thai. It's vegan, gluten free and super tasty. Enjoy!

TOFU PAD THAI 

Make 4 -6 servings

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 pound extra firm tofu, drained and pressed, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
12 oz rice noodles
1/3 cup wheat free tamari 
2 tablespoons fresh lime
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoons tamarind paste
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
1 small red onion, cut into 1/2 inch dice
4 green onions, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup dry-roasted unsalted peanuts, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, rough chopped
1 cup pea shoots or bean sprouts, for garnish
1 lime, cut into wedges, for garnish

Instructions:

1. Pre-heat over to 350°F. Line an oven tray with parchment paper. Place diced tofu into a medium sized bowl and coat evenly with 2 tablespoons of coconut oil (melt the coconut oil slightly if it’s solid). Arrange the tofu on the baking sheet in a single layer and bake for approximately 40 minutes, rotating and flipping the tofu periodically, until it is crisp and golden.
2. Soak the noodles in a large pot of hot water until softened, 5 to 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the noodles. Drain well and rinse under cold water. Transfer the strained noodles to a large bowl and set aside.
3. In a small bowl, combine the tamari or soy sauce, lime juice, maple syrup, tamarind paste, tomato paste, water, and crushed red pepper flakes. Stir until well mixed and set aside.
4. In a large skillet or wok, heat the remaining tablespoon of coconut oil over medium heat. Add the onions, with a big pinch of salt, and sauté for 1 minute. Add the green onions and garlic, sauté for about 5 minutes.  Add the baked tofu and cooked noodles and toss to combine and heat through.
5. Sir in the sauce and cook, tossing to coat, adding a splash or two of additional water, if needed, to prevent sticking. When noodles are hot, transfer the pad thai to a serving platter, sprinkle with peanuts and cilantro. Garnish with pea shoots or bean sprouts and lime on the side of the platter. Serve hot. 

This recipe was inspired by Robin Robertson's pad thai recipe in her cookbook "1000 Vegan Recipes".

A big thanks to photographers Jessica Dare, Lisa Stephens and Caitlin Fortier for capturing the shots below.