This weekend we found ourselves in the big, blue box that is Ikea, returning some unneeded items (and not picking up meatballs, before you ask). I was initially surprised at the snaking queues, and the depressed-looking teens trailing after nearly-as depressed-looking parents; their carts piled high with bright rugs, huge frames and angle poise lights. Then I twigged: these kids were getting sorted for the start of the English universities. And you can’t start uni without the obligatory shuffle around the cavernous temple to flat-pack.
American and Scottish college and uni students are well into their first semester of their academic year, but the English ones are a bit later. My daughter, Rachel, just a few week’s ago started her first year at a Scottish university. Although she is now in the swing of things, it cannot be overestimated what a huge and daunting change it all is. She and thousands like her are having to organise their time and money without the benefit of their parent’s on-tap wisdom – and bank account. Decisions – often taken as committee in a family setting (well in ours at least) – are also very suddenly theirs alone. If you ever thought having all of your children off to university – or away to a new job – was a blessed relief, I have news for you: your job continues. But from a painful distance. Andrew and I are probably finding it harder than she is, to be honest. We don’t have the distraction of parties and teenage hormones. 🙂
My sister -also with a daughter in first year at uni – told me this morning that she heard that most students first going off to university don’t really settle until about 6 months in. I can believe that. You don’t suddenly take on the mantle of adulthood just because the calendar says it is time to go up to higher education. A good balance of sleep, food, reading, writing, partying (hmm) and perhaps paid work isn’t automatically bestowed upon matriculation and keys to your dorm room. It takes trial and not a little error. But they get there. They make new friends, meet deadlines and slowly and haltingly start to become the person they were meant to be.
But we, the parent, still have our uses. In my case, I am food ideas lady. Her Dad has the serious job of stress management counsellor, and I am basically the lunch lady. I do however take my job seriously and have been writing up short ideas for her to make up and take with her in her backpack, and prepare at weekends when they fend for themselves. Today’s recipe is not quite a sling in the panniers and eat on the library steps food, but more a weekend supper. I will soon post a version that is perfect for eating between lectures, or cross-legged on the bed, earphones blasting.
When I posted this recipe on Instagram I almost instantly received a string of hearts as her comment. Followed by a phone call pining for my food – and raw, fresh food in particular. Although her halls of residence offers very good grub, it is all cooked – and ‘suitable for all palates’ shall we say. This dish, with its sour-sweet-savoury raw vegetables, herbs and noodles piled on an open omelet is top of the list for her next visit home. After I tackle her laundry… Lunch lady and laundry lady. Not everything changes. 🙂
Pad Thai Crepes
A slight misnomer, as these aren’t true crepes. They are in fact whisper-thin omelets, but I didn’t think the idea of Pad Thai Omelets quite gave you the correct impression either. So, forgive me for seducing you with the idea of crepes, as this sweet-sour, spicy and savoury marriage of vegetables, brown rice noodles atop golden shallot omelet is pretty damn tasty. And because it has much less noodles, and more vegetables, than a ‘real’ Pad Thai, it’s a bit healthier, too.
If you don’t have the brown rice noodles, use buckwheat soba noodles, regular rice noodles, vermicelli or no noodles at all: the tangy, sauce-soaked vegetables may be all the topping you need. And vegans, I haven’t forgotten you: swap the omelet for a socca (chickpea pancake) or dosa. For both recipes keep the pancakes plain and unflavoured.
Handful of raw almonds OR finely chopped roasted almonds or peanuts
Pad Thai Sauce
1 tbsp tamarind paste*
1 tbsp tamari sauce, soy sauce or coconut aminos
1 tbsp lime juice
1 ½ tsp maple syrup or date syrup or jaggery
A few grinds of fresh black pepper
1 tbsp water
1 small courgette/zucchini/summer squash
3 inch piece of mooli/white radish
Handful of radishes (If you don’t want to use a mooli, just use more radish)
75g brown rice noodles OR white rice noodles, vermicelli or even spaghetti
1 tbsp (divided) coconut oil or rapeseed oil
4 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced (or 1/2 small onion)
pinch of salt and sugar
Handful of baby spinach or other small, soft leaves (I used chard)
4 spring onions/scallions, sliced on the diagonal
Good handful each of coriander and mint
1 red chilli (optional), sliced
Radish sprouts or bean sprouts
* increase the lime juice and maple syrup if you don’t have tamarind paste
1. If using whole almonds, roast in a 180C/350F oven for 8 minutes. Cool then tumble into small pieces in a food processor or similar (or chop very finely). Set aside.
3. Take the carrot, courgette and mooli and either use a spiraliser to make noodles, use a julienne peeler, mandoline, or slice very thinly. Slice the radish into thin discs. Set aside.
4. Cook the rice noodles in plenty of boiling water until just done. Mine were ready in eight minutes. Cool slightly in a sieve then pop the noodles back in the pan and douse with most of the Pad Thai sauce. If using just vegetables, toss the sauce through these.
5. Now, for the omelet that thinks it is a crepe. Heat a small sauté pan, adding half of the oil. Chuck in half of the sliced shallots and sauté until golden, stirring frequently. Whisk the eggs, adding the seasoning; pour into the pan, swirling to cover. Let this cook on a low-medium heat until just cooked through – pop on a lid if you like to speed up the cooking. You may like to flash this under a hot grill if your eggs are a bit large or your pan is quite small (ie, the egg coverage is thick). Upend the crepe into a serving plate. Carry on and make the next crepe.
6. Once the crepes are done, grab half of the saucey noodles and lay them over the crepes, then lay over the vegetables, herbs, spring onion, chillies, chopped almonds and radish sprouts. Pour over any remaining sauce and serve immediately.
Party Time: You can make this as a party dish by preparing multiple crepes (make ahead if you like and gently reheat in a microwave or steamer until barely warm), overlapping them on a long platter and covering with an appropriately increased amount of toppings. These are good garnished with stir-fried firm tofu pieces. To make this more authentic, add some dried shrimps too.
Note: I developed this recipe using Clearspring Ltd brown rice noodles, coconut oil and tamari sauce. Although I was given these products (and a few more too) to use as I wished, I already use and enjoy many of their products. Clearspring is a privately owned UK company established in the 1980s to distribute great tasting traditional foods that support good health; promote sustainable agriculture; and provide economic stability for producer communities. Although ClearspringLtd is known for their quality, organic Japanese products, they are expanding their range to include equally high-quality European foods. Click here for a full list of their products, as well as recipes and stockists. I spotted this page on their Environmental Standards that you may be interested to read: it looks a great template for any small or large business.