There are plenty of versions of Pad Thai out there and this is how I make it. This is based on Duguid and Alford's recipe in Hot Sour Salty Sweet.
It can feel like there's lots going on with Pad Thai. So I do it in chunks so I don't lose track of things.
First, cut a lime in half and put it on the table. Put a couple tablespoons of sugar into a small bowl, then add about 1/2 cup of vinegar and as much cayenne as you can stand. Put that on the table too. If you'd like to slice some cucumbers, do that and have them join the other stuff on the table. You can also put some chopped roasted peanuts on the table.
Then get a heaping tablespoon of tamarind paste soaking in hot water. Don't put it on the table.
There are three basic parts to these noodles- the noodles (obviously), the protein, and the vegetables. I serve everything separately so everyone can build their noodles the way they want to. If you don't want to have everything separate, you'll combine it all at the end.
The noodles are easy- just cook whatever size of rice noodles you like in boiling water till they're just done. It's nice to soak and fry them instead, but we're keeping this simple. You can cook the noodles ahead of time if you rinse them with cold water, but it's not hard to make them as you go along. I use 1 pound of dry noodles and put them on the table when they're done.
The vegetables are just bean sprouts and greens onions so there isn't
much prep. Slice a bunch of green onions into ribbons and put them in a
colander with about 4 cups (or more) of bean sprouts and rinse well.
For the protein, you have lots of choices. We use eggs, meat, and tofu, but you can just do one or two of those. Since my husband doesn't like tofu, I fry it separately and put it on the table, but it can be cooked with the eggs and meat. I use a 10-oz package of pressed tofu. You can use chicken or pork. If you use meat, slice it thinly. You can use just a little, or half a pound if you like. Beat 3-5 eggs with a pinch or two of salt. Saute 2-4 cloves of minced garlic in oil briefly, then add the meat, if using, and cook till it changes color, then add the tofu, if using, and cook a little longer, then add the eggs and cook till the eggs are set. Transfer to a plate and set aside, or put it on the table in whatever you want to serve it in.
By this time your tamarind should have softened nicely, so press it through a strainer. Add 1-2 T each of soy sauce and fish sauce. You'll also want some shrimp powder on hand to sprinkle in, if you want to use it.
Saute the vegetables in oil over high heat for about 30 seconds, then add the dried shrimp and stir briefly, then add the tamarind mixture and cook for about 30 more seconds. You can mix everything together at this point (noodles, vegetables, and protein), or just stick the vegetables on the table.
You might want to put some fish sauce on the table too. Let everyone create their noodle dish the way they please.
Chile-vinegar sauce (vinegar, sugar, and cayenne)
Cucumber (if you want)
1 pound dry rice noodles
1-2 tablespoons tamarind paste soaked in about 1/2 cup hot water
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce
1-2 tablespoons fish sauce
2-4 cloves minced garlic
Pressed tofu (if you want)
Sliced chicken or pork (2-8 oz)
3-5 eggs beaten with a little salt
About 4 cups or so of mung bean sprouts
1 bunch green onions
1 tablespoon shrimp powder