Capitol Hill Cooks | Phad Pak, inspired by 15th and Madison

(Images: Em)

The scents and spices of Thailand are unmistakable.  Pungent garlic, hand-pounded curry pastes, and clouds of wafting chili heat that leave you coughing in amazement and delight.  For me, those smells conjure the bustle of a busy market, the excitement of a foreign place, and the prospect of a great meal.

The tale of this month’s recipe begins in an exotic land far away: Columbia City. That’s where I first got hooked on the clean, spicy, true-Thai flavors of Little Uncle’s food, at the weekly farmers market stand known then as Shophouse. Those Wednesday night Thai picnics soon led us back home to Capitol Hill for Monday night pop-up delights, first at Licorous and later at La Bête.  


Along the way, Little Uncle picked up a host of well-deserved accolades: Best Pop-Up Restaurant of 2011 (Seattle Magazine), 20 Hottest New Restaurants in the U.S. (Restaurant Management), and the apt “It may be ‘little,’ but in the all the ways that count for food-lovers, this is something big” (All You Can Eat, Seattle Times).

Lucky for us, Little Uncle has finally settled into a permanent hole in the wall (now with sidewalk seating!) right here on Capitol Hill at 15th and Madison.  Starting this week, their hours are expanding to 11a to 8p Tuesday through Saturday.  Which means that, while the Hill boasts plenty of Thai options, if you’re jonesing for Little Uncle’s food, there are still two days of the week on which you will have to make it at home.

Fortunately, unlike the homemade curry pastes that lend such complex flavor to some of Little Uncle’s food, this dish is easy.  And the husband-wife duo behind Little Uncle, Wiley Frank (formerly of Lark) and Poncharee Kounpungchart (you can call her “PK”), have graciously shared their recipe with CHS readers.

My home recipe-testing revealed a few things that you might like to know.  First, the nice folks at Mekong Rainier are very helpful if you’re trying to locate the ingredients for this recipe.  And mangosteens are coming into season, which is another good reason to head down there; you’ll be wanting a bag for dessert.  They’re mighty expensive, but worth it.

Second, about those little Thai chilies.  I made this dish twice to explore the spice level.  Four chilies, as the recipe recommends, made the dish perfectly, enjoyably spicy.  Eight made me cry a little bit.  You’ll have to find your own middle ground.

Finally, you can make this vegetable dish a meal by increasing the quantity of greens and adding diced chicken or tofu. No need to increase the other ingredients; this recipe made plenty of sauce to flavor a hefty bunch of curly kale (it sops up that sauce quite nicely) and block of tofu, which made an ample dinner for two over jasmine rice.  After stir-frying the garlic and chilies, just add your protein of choice to the pan with the sauce to give it a few minutes’ head start before adding your greens, then add a few spoonfuls of water to keep the pan from drying out while everything cooks.  

Phad Pak
Recipe courtesy of Little Uncle
1 big handful of greens and/or vegetables cut into bite sized pieces
2 tablespoons yellow bean sauce
1 tablespoon Thai light soy sauce
4-? Thai chilies, up to you
4 cloves garlic
a few spoonfuls water, if needed
optional:  tofu or chicken

In a mortar and pestle, smash the garlic and chili into a rough paste (alternatively, you can chop it with a knife, but the flavor will be slightly different).  Mix the yellow bean sauce and Thai soy sauce together in a small bowl.  In a wok or sauté pan, fry the garlic and chili in oil over medium heat until you are coughing up a storm from the chilies. Add the sauce and optional chicken or tofu and cook for a few minutes, until the chicken/tofu begins to brown.  Raise the burner temperature to high, add your greens or veggies, and mix everything together. At this point, you may need to add a few spoonfuls water in order to cook whatever veggie or green you have in the pan. If so, add a bit of water and stir-fry until greens or veggies are crisp-tender.  Serve with rice.

Capitol Hill Cooks is a home cooking recipe series featuring ingredients, ideas, and recipes from the neighborhood. Have a recipe you think we should share? Drop us a line at chs@capitolhillseattle.com.

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