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Single Person’s Diet: Pumpkin Pad Thai

Add an Asian accent to the bounty of America's fall harvest for a fusion of flavors

By Kathy Kingsley | November 5, 2012

When you think of pad Thai, pumpkin probably isn’t the first ingredient that comes to mind. But it can add an exciting new dimension to Thailand’s national dish. Pumpkin’s sweet earthy taste is the perfect complement to the distinctive quartet of traditional Thai flavors: sweet, salty, sour and spicy.
 
Over the past 15 years, pad Thai’s popularity has exploded in the United States, and it’s easy to understand why: The blend of tangy sweet noodles and crunchy vegetables and peanuts is irresistible. But you don’t need to go to a Thai restaurant to enjoy these fresh, complex flavors. Pad Thai is essentially just a stir-fry that requires little more than chopping and stirring, and it’s a perfect dish for a solo diner. And this time of year, it's a way to eat seasonally and, for most of us, locally.

Dining for one doesn't get much more flavorful and exotic than this American-Asian Pad Thai. It's wonderful served on its own or as the star of a full-fledged three-course meal, with a supporting cast featuring a Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce appetizer and an easy dessert of Gingered Apple Confit. This menu provides not just a full complement of tastes but a healthy blend of protein, complex carbs and (good) fats.

The one part of this menu that involves a bit of work is preparing the pumpkin, but it’s easier than you may think — and the awesome flavor is worth the effort. Pick a smaller, thinner-skinned eating variety, like sugar, New England pie or Cinderella. These are grown for sweetness and flavor (which the more fibrous jack-o'-lantern types lack), and they cook up beautifully. You can eat the carving kind, but they’re starchier and taste more like potato than pumpkin.

Adding pumpkin to rice noodles raises the dish’s nutritional profile. Pad Thai is relatively healthy to begin with — low in fat and featuring plenty of fresh vegetables — but the bonus of pumpkin is its nutrients: One cup contains 564 milligrams of potassium, 1.4 milligrams of iron and 3 grams of fiber, plus a decent dose of beta carotene, calcium and vitamin C.

The other unfamiliar ingredient in this recipe is rice sticks. These pale, translucent, flat noodles range in size from very thin to more than a quarter-inch wide. Unlike flour-based pasta, they don’t need to be boiled. Instead, you soak them in hot water until they’re tender, then quickly stir-fry them with the veggies. Look for them in the Asian section of large supermarkets or Asian grocers or order them online
 
Dining for one doesn't get much more flavorful and exotic than this American-Asian pad Thai. It's not just a delicious feast for your stomach but for all of your senses as well.
 
(MORE: Pumpkin Pie Goulash Casserole)

Menu
Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce
Fall Pumpkin Pad Thai
Gingered Apple Confit

Drinks: You can pair this menu with beer or wine — or mulled cider. Try a German-style wheat beer, like a hefeweizen, or the classic Thai pale lager Singha. Both will balance nicely with the fresh flavors in the dish. A good wine choice is a straightforward white with a hint of sweetness, like a California, Alsatian or Finger Lakes riesling.
 
Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce
This recipe can also be made with beef, pork or shrimp. Soaking the bamboo skewers in water before threading on the chicken will prevent them from scorching during grilling.
2 servings
 
1/4 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1½ teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
½ teaspoon grated lime zest
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
8 ounces boneless chicken breasts, pounded slightly and cut into 1-inch-wide strips
4 to 6 (8-inch) bamboo skewers, soaked in cold water for 20 minutes

  1. In a shallow bowl, whisk together the chicken stock, soy sauce, brown sugar, ginger, lime juice and zest, crushed red pepper and garlic. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Let stand for 15 minutes. Preheat a gas grill to medium high about 15 minutes before you're ready to cook the skewers, or heat a cast iron or other grill pan over medium-high heat about 3 minutes before. 
  2. Make the Peanut Sauce (recipe below).
  3. Thread the chicken strips onto each of the skewers. Place the chicken on the rack or grill pan that’s been coated with cooking spray, and grill the skewers for 5 minutes on each side or until chicken is just cooked through.
  4. Serve the chicken with the Peanut Sauce.
Peanut Sauce
1/4 cup peanut butter, preferably chunky, at room temperature
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice-wine (or white) vinegar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

In a small bowl, mix the peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, cayenne and vegetable oil until well blended.
 
Pumpkin Pad Thai
This Thai-restaurant favorite comes together at home in less time than you might imagine. It’s great as is, or you can toss thinly sliced chicken breast or peeled and deveined shrimp into the pan before adding the noodles.
2 servings
 
6 ounces dried wide and flat rice noodles (also called rice sticks)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus wedges for serving
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon chile-garlic sauce, or more to taste
1½ tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups julienned fresh-baked pumpkin (see Cook’s Note, below) or other winter squash, such as butternut
1 garlic clove, minced
4 scallions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped roasted and salted peanuts
  1. Cover the rice noodles in hot tap water and soak cover in a large bowl until limp and white, about 20 minutes, or according to package directions. (Do not oversoak.) Drain well.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, soy sauce, brown sugar and chile-garlic sauce until well blended. Set aside.
  3. Heat the oil in a wok or heavy skillet over high heat until very hot. Add the pumpkin and stir-fry until golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the scallions and garlic and cook, stirring constantly for 30 seconds. Pour in the eggs and cook, scraping the skillet with a spatula, so the eggs are almost set, about 30 seconds. Transfer the egg mixture to a plate.
  4. Add the noodles and soy sauce mixture to the skillet and cook, tossing constantly, to coat the noodles with the sauce, about 1 minute. Return the egg mixture to the skillet and toss to coat, breaking up the eggs gently.
  5. Serve the noodles with lime wedges, garnished with the cilantro and peanuts.
 
Cook’s Note:
Small cooking pumpkins, like sugar, are the best variety to use for this recipe and surprisingly easy to prepare, just follow these steps. 
  1. Start with one small cooking pumpkin (2-3 pounds) and, using a large heavy chef’s knife or cleaver, cut straight down to one side of stem.
  2. Spoon out the seeds and pulp from the halves.
  3. Place the pumpkins, cut-side down, on a wooden board. Remove sections of the skin using a downward motion with the knife.
  4. Cut the pumpkin flesh into wedges, then cut into thin strips — or whatever shape you desire. Proceed with recipe.
Gingered Apple Confit
Nothing says autumn like an apple dessert. Here, warm and juicy sautéed apples are perfect served over cold vanilla ice cream.
2 servings
 
1 tablespoon butter
1½ teaspoons minced fresh ginger
2 cups (about ½ pound) diced (3/4-inch) peeled tart apples, such as Granny Smith, Cortland or Braeburn
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  1. Melt the butter in a medium skillet over moderately high heat. Add the ginger and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the apples and sauté until just tender, about 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the sugar and cinnamon, and cook for about 2 minutes or until sugar melts and apples are coated.
  2. Serve the warm apples over vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt.
Kathy Kingsley is a food writer and cookbook author in Newtown, Conn.