Say hello to my new favorite Thai meal! Aside from being the prettiest dish I've made so far this year, it's also full of vegetables and tons of umami flavors. The best part? It takes maybe 10-15 minutes of prep and only about 5 minutes to cook, so this is the very definition of a weeknight meal. And unlike takeout, this won't leave you in a greasy lump on your couch after eating it. It's win-win-win, really.
This inspiration for these "noodles" comes from two different versions of my favorite Thai dish, pad kee mao. One is from what used to be my favorite neighborhood Thai place in San Francisco, where I used to order their blazingly spicy duck pad kee mao until they were unfortunately shut down by the health department. They reopened, but I moved soon after and I never really felt the urge to go back. I didn't find another Thai restaurant in the city that I could love until I read an article by Mark Bittman on Kin Khao, which opened here a couple of years ago. His descriptions of the food had me dying to go, not least because he singled out their pad kee mao as especially good. I did get a chance to go last year, and I did eat green curry rabbit that I still think about, but I did not get to try the pad kee mao, which was sold out. Fortunately for me, Bittman's article happened to include the recipe, and I filed it away for later.
Fast forward to now, when I decided I wanted to try making pad kee mao with sweet potato instead of the traditional rice noodles, because it's January and I hear voodles are the new kale (please let me never say voodles again). In a nod to the restaurant I never want to go back to, I decided to make it a duck pad kee mao, but otherwise I pretty closely followed Bittman's recipe, with a few deviations in the ingredient list.
For one thing, I subbed regular soy sauce plus honey for the sweet soy sauce called for, which I could only find online, and I didn't really feel like adding to the four bottles of soy sauce already in my refrigerator. I also decided to use confit duck legs, since they come cooked and would be simple to add to a stir fry. But they also come very salty, so I suggest substituting low sodium soy sauce. I used regular sodium-level soy sauce, and while delicious, the final result was closer to a salt lick than I would prefer. The recipe was also a little vague on whether to use fresh Thai bird chiles or dried, but I could only find dried, so that's what I used, and it worked fine. Finally, Bittman calls for holy basil, or "in a pinch" Thai basil. Um, no, I don't think so. For me, even living in a city with many Asian markets probably well stocked with both of those types of basil, "in a pinch" actually meant having to go to two grocery stores to even find regular basil, so I'm gonna allow it.
So regardless of whether you want to take the time to seek out specialty ingredients or just use what you have, when you get a craving for some spicy Thai I promise this dish will be delicious, probably faster and definitely healthier than ordering takeout.
Sweet Potato Pad Kee Mao with Duck
Adapted from Mark Bittman
1 lb sweet potatoes
4 tbs fish sauce
2 tbs low sodium soy sauce
1 tsp honey
1 tsp rice vinegar
6 cloves garlic, peeled
5 bird's eye chiles, fresh or dried
3 tbs vegetable oil
1/2 onion, sliced thinly
1 red bell pepper, sliced thinly
1/2 lb duck leg confit, shredded
2 handfuls basil
- Peel sweet potatoes and, using a vegetable peeler or mandolin, continue peeling potato into wide, thin ribbons.
- Whisk together fish sauce, soy sauce, honey and vinegar and set aside.
- Chop the garlic with 3 of the chiles until finely minced. Smash the remaining 2 chiles with the flat of a knife and set aside.
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, then add the garlic mixture and onions. Saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Increase heat to high. Add the bell pepper, duck, sweet potatoes and sauce and cook, stirring or using tongs to get everything coated. When potatoes have softened and the sauce thickens, remove from heat and stir in the remaining chiles and the basil. Toss until basil is wilted. Serve hot.
- You can easily substitute chicken or pork for the duck, just make sure to cook it first before adding the peppers and noodles. This can also easily be vegetarian by substituting tofu. For both of these options, regular soy sauce is probably fine, since the meat or tofu could use the extra seasoning.