In college, my school’s cafeteria boasted a beautiful exterior but, for the most part, less-than-impressive meals. The all-you-can-eat restaurant had plenty of stations serving burgers, pizza, and fried chicken (I went to college in the south, after all), but none of it was exactly mouthwatering. The desserts, which were stunning works of art on the outside, consisted primarily of Cool Whip and instant pudding. The soups and casseroles seemed unique and intriguing, but each one tasted bland and boring despite their exotic titles. Since all students were required to have meal plans, the cafeteria didn’t really have to deliver so much in the taste department. I rarely got excited to dine there.
The lovely tile-roofed, Tuscan-themed restaurant did, however, excel in a few areas other than looks…and it took home the gold in those few areas. There were a few meals that were out-of-this-world amazing, dishes I still crave nearly five years later and would pay to eat on a regular basis if I lived close enough.
Number one was the chocolate feast every Valentine’s Day. It was INCREDIBLE! The serving staff went all out with flowing chocolate fountains, chocolate pizza, chocolate cheesecake, chocolate waffles, chocolate-covered strawberries, chocolate cake…everything you could imagine in chocolate form! The desserts were actually as tasty as they looked, and the buffet lines were even decorated with real ice sculptures!
Number two was the buffalo chicken wrap. It was legendary on campus and was only offered on Fridays, when everyone would wait in line for 45 minutes just to snag one. I still have yet to successfully recreate this one, although I’ve tried ever since!
Finally, there was the Pad Thai. Disclaimer: I realize this isn’t an “authentic” Pad Thai recipe. It’s made with rice instead of noodles, it doesn’t have any fish sauce, and it’s really a different meal altogether. But my school cafeteria called it Pad Thai, so I guess it’s close enough. :)
The Pad Thai was just about the only meal, other than the buffalo chicken wrap, that I would excitedly hightail it to the cafeteria for. It was flavorful, full of texture, and prettily molded into a circular stack, served warm with fresh cilantro on top. So good!
Thankfully, this is one meal I’ve been able to recreate. I liked it so much, I actually used to make it in my own on-campus kitchen when it wasn’t being served! It’s really easy to throw together using simple ingredients, but it looks impressive once it’s plated.
My school cafeteria might not have done much to make my mouth water, but it certainly delivered with this recipe. Authentic or not, this “Pad Thai” is a tasty, healthy meal I still enjoy making when I have leftover chicken to use up or when I just get the craving.
- 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 2 Tbsp. soy sauce
- 1/2 cup instant brown rice
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro
- 1/2 cup dry-roasted peanuts
- 1/2 cup shredded or chopped carrots
- Cut chicken into one-inch pieces. Sauté in a skillet over medium heat with soy sauce until cooked through. Meanwhile, cook rice according to package directions.
- Once chicken and rice are done, mold ingredients into stacks. For each serving, press a fourth of the cilantro into an 8-ounce measuring cup or small bowl. Layer a fourth of the peanuts, carrots, and chicken on top of the cilantro. Top with rice and firmly pack down until the mixture is level with the edge of the cup or bowl.
- To serve, place a plate upside-down over the measuring cup and carefully flip over to release the mold onto the plate, cilantro-side up.
If you have leftover scrambled eggs, they make a great addition to this dish--plus they make for a more authentic "Pad Thai" meal!
Experiment with turkey, shrimp, or salmon in place of the chicken. Leftovers work great if you need to use them up!
Total Fat: 12.6 g
Cholesterol: 73.1 mg
Sodium: 528.7 mg
Total Carbs: 14.6 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.5 g
Protein: 32.5 g