Monday, June 24, 2013

Oriental Vegetables and Tofu.

A post from me regarding tofu is long-overdue.

Seriously, I can't believe I've not posted about tofu yet on this blog.

I eat tofu at least a couple times a week. I would more often if it didn't involve thinking at least a couple hours in advance before meal time. The way I do tofu, I press it for about an hour (sometimes longer, because I'm at work or in class or something), then marinate it for an hour or so (again, sometimes longer), then fry it over medium heat. And yes, that's a long process, I know, but it just turns out so incredibly delicious. It's nearly perfect. There's only one thing more perfect.

There's this dish at my favorite restaurant. T. Garden Thai Restaurant. And to me, it's just called "Number 34," because that's the easiest way to order it. It's also known as "Oriental Vegetables and Tofu." Once I tried this dish, I never went back. I will always order this dish for two reasons. One, because it's the most perfect thing I've ever tasted. And two, because every time I taste it, I get a little closer to figuring out what makes it so perfect.

There are a few things to know about this dish:
1. It contains stir-fried bits of broccolini, eggplant, red and yellow bell peppers, bamboo shoots, green beans, onions, and bean sprouts.
2. I don't think it's necessarily a Thai dish. I get the feeling it's more Cantonese.
3. The sauce does not specifically taste like anything. It's not overly garlicky, not too soy saucey, not especially hot. Not too anything.
4. The tofu's texture is perfect. Crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside.
5. It costs a dollar less at lunch time. Had to include that info.

I will tell you right now that my version does not do this dish even the tiniest bit of justice, but mine is still really good. I tend to use whatever appropriate veggies I happen to have on hand. Since I try to eat seasonally, this dish has a lot of summer veggies.

Oriental Vegetables and Tofu

Stir Fry:
1 tbs coconut oil
1 baby bok choy, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, shredded
1/4 purple cabbage, chopped
(plus whatever else you've got)
2 blocks of tofu
fresh ground black pepper
1 tbs sesame oil
1/2 cup soy or tamari sauce
1/4 cup sugar
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp basil
1 tbs vegetarian worcestershire sauce (optional)
1 tbs rice vinegar (optional, but nice to have)
1/2 cup water combined with 1 tbs corn starch
crushed red pepper to taste

Begin by making the sauce. In a small sauce pan, add the sesame oil and garlic. Saute for a moment, then add liquids aside from corn starch and water. If you are adding crushed red pepper, now is the time to add that. Stir and simmer for a few minutes, then add the water and corn starch mixture. Continue to simmer. Let cool and set aside. I often make mine a day or two in advance.

Prep the tofu. Cut the block into bite-sized pieces. I like to make thin triangular pieces. It's fun and they cook well. Using a (clean!) kitchen towel and a thin cloth (or paper towel), press the tofu between several layers of cloth. Add a nice library book or two on top, to help press it nicely. Wait an hour or so. For a visual step-by-step of this, see below.

The mighty and powerful tofu block, untouched by my hands.

Cut into triangles. Below is a kitchen towel and a cloth napkin.

Next, I place another cloth napkin as well as another towel on top, followed by a few books to help press it well.

When you come back, your tofu should be well-pressed. In a bowl or sealable container, marinate your tofu. I like to use some sriracha, soy sauce, and black pepper. Make sure all pieces are coated, and set in the fridge for a bit. At least half an hour.

Make the stir-fry. Use a good frying pan (well-seasoned cast iron, stainless steel, even a good non-stick pan is fine) and coat it with coconut oil (sesame oil can be nice, too!). Let it heat up to medium heat, and add the tofu. Be patient. The heat isn't super high, so this isn't going to happen in five minutes. After several minutes, flip all the tofu. It should be nicely browned. Continue watching and flipping every three minutes or so, until it reaches a nice "caramelized" appearance. Add vegetables to this pan, adding a little more oil if necessary, and fry lightly for a few minutes. Season with ground pepper, and continue to cook. Turn heat down to medium-low, and add sauce. Cook an additional minute or so. Serve with a pot of jasmine tea.

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