Life is expensive. This week I've written checks for car insurance, car registration, and a car inspection. I've paid utility bills, bought new contact lenses, and Zyrtec for the dog. I'll drop about $2,500 for car repairs Thursday morning (good, trusty car, but it's getting old). It's also time for a haircut.

Did I mention that I'm going on vacation in 2 weeks? Lovely Northern California awaits, but it's not free.

Time to cut back in other areas. Like food. Eating out is a pretty rare event for me, but I still spend a fair amount on food — I think it's worth it to buy quality products. Happily, food is least expensive when it's in season, so my CSA produce and CSF fish are a pretty good bargain. So where to cut? I'm giving up Tofu Pad Thai from my local Whole Foods Market.

I love Tofu Pad Thai. As hard as I try to stay away from prepared foods (usually for health reasons, but also to save money), I find myself buying the stuff a couple of times each month. Red pepper flakes, cooked egg, and a snappy fish sauce give the rice noodles and tofu a clear, clean flavor and interesting texture. I find myself gravitating toward the prepared foods counter when I'm there. It's like a magnet, pulling me in and siphoning hard-earned bills from my wallet.

Not today. Today I bought rice noodles, a block of extra-firm tofu and a handful of snap peas. At home, I got to work, using the ingredient list on an old container label as a guide (though I added a few things and left others out). The results were quite good! I don't have a cost breakdown, but I'm sure my savings were substantial, which means more money for vacation. Look out, San Francisco...

Note: Use soy sauce instead of nuoc mam (fish sauce) for a vegetarian version of this dish.

Tofu Pad Thai
Serves 6-8

1 block extra-firm tofu, drained, pressed and cubed
7 oz. wide rice noodles
3 eggs
1/2 pound sugar snap peas

1/4 cup nuoc mam (Asian fish sauce)
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1 lemon, juiced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup canola oil

2 teaspoons hot red pepper flakes
2 jalapenos, minced
2 bunches scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup dry roasted peanuts

To press the tofu, place the bock between two paper towel-lined plates. The top plate serves as a weight. Allow the tofu to drain at least 30 minutes before cutting into 1/2-inch cubes.

To prepare the rice noodles, bring a medium pot of water to a rapid boil. Turn off the heat and throw the noodles in. Allow them to soften in the hot water for 10 minutes, then drain.

Whisk the eggs in a small bowl. Cook omelet-style in a small skillet coated lightly with cooking spray or canola oil. When cooked through, allow to cool, then slice into small cubes.

Blanch the sugar snaps in boiling water for 2 minutes, drain, then place in an ice water bath to stop the cooking. Drain and roughly chop.

Combine the nuoc mam, sugar, rice wine vinegar, lemon juice, and garlic in a bowl. Slowly add the canola oil while steadily whisking to create an emulsion.

Place the cubed tofu, egg, blanched sugar snap peas, and softened noodles in a large bowl. Add the dressing and toss gently to combine. Add the hot red pepper flakes, jalapenos, scallions, and peanuts, and toss again. Taste for seasoning and serve.


  1. Tofu is such a versatile ingredient. Love your recipe. Have a great holiday!

  2. I hear ya.. we've had car expenses, life expenses, regular expenses and then there is the bills! We are going on vaca in 1 month and affording it by the hair of our chinny chin chins but I refuse to bust my hump all year and not treat myself to at least a week of relaxation somewhere enjoyable. We have tried cutting back in the food expenses too (I'm a food photographer and my husband is a chef..so...) It's been a little challenging but I agree tofu is a great way to do it and eating plenty of veggies and fruits, the local veggie market is so much cheaper than the processed crap at the grocery store. Best of luck and have a wonderful vacation! :)

  3. saved to try later!

  4. Ellie - I should eat tofu more often - maybe this will inspire me to do so. Thanks for the good wishes!

    mr. and mrs. - We all need at least one good vacation each year. I've decided I need to get away more often, and will plan my next trip as soon as I return from California.

    scottandjane - Hello! I hope you will try this and enjoy it. Let me know how things are going in Johannesburg when you have a chance.

  5. lovely post and maybe its cool that your learnt to make it at home for future have loads of fun on your trip


  6. its amazing how much some of our favorite foods cost out...but it does teach us to make them, and I bet with practice yours will be much better. I used to waste so much money at starbucks it was frightening...now I do all my own espresso's and coffees

  7. Rebecca - Yes, it is good that I made it myself, and thanks, I can't wait for vacation.

    Chef Dennis - I can't talk about Starbucks. I recently fell into a very bad habit...