(in which a white guy stumbles onto a flavor vaguely resembling authentic vietnamese food)

I've been working on my stir-frying skills a lot lately, spurred on by: 1) a profusion of vegetables arriving in our crisper every week because we subscribed to a CSA box, 2) my introduction to the Tahnanh Son Tofu Manufacturing store, a few blocks from where I work, where fresh (still warm!) tofu that is 100 times better than anything you will ever find in a supermarket can be had for $1.25/pound, and 3) the realization that this combined with the uber-cheap noodles to be had at any number of stores in the ID makes for quick, healthy, and very affordable meals.

Last night I think I nailed it to the wall.

Brian's as-yet-nameless awesome tofu dish:

(all measurements are approximations)

1 lb tofu, cut into 1/2" cubes

1 Tbs fried chili paste (less if you have a sensitive stomach...seriously)
1 Tbs natural peanut butter (i.e., just smashed peanuts with no oils added)
a few shakes of fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
juice of 1 lime

2 cloves garlic, diced
1 inch ginger, diced
1 head of broccoli, chopped medium-fine
1/2 yellow onion, sliced
1/4 large or 1/2 small head of red cabbage, sliced(I'm sure green would be fine, too, or some chopped bok choy)
1 green bell pepper, cut into 1/2" squares
a couple of handfuls mung bean sprouts

peanut oil
soy sauce
fresh ground black pepper
corn starch

1. Whisk chili paste, peanut butter, fish sauce, sugar, and lime juice together in a bowl until more or less homogeneous. Toss with tofu. Set aside while prepping the vegetables.

2. Whisk a couple pinches of corn starch together with just enough water to make a slurry, and set aside.

3. Heat a large wok on high until a drop of water boils away on contact. Then add enough oil to liberally cover the bottom, and heat until nearly smoking (if you heat the wok propperly first, this should take no more than a minute.)

4. Shaking off (but reserve) excess marinade, add the tofu to the wok. There is a lot of water hitting a lot of oil here, so BE CAREFUL. (I recommend rolling a few pieces down the side of the wok at a time...don't just plunge it all straight into the oil at once.) Fry in the oil, for several minutes, turning periodically, until the tofu is browned on all sides.

5. Push the tofu to the edges and make a well in the middle. Add the garlic and ginger, and fry that for 20-30 seconds (do not let it brown!).

6. Add all of the veg except the sprouts, and stir fry that until the onions and cabbage start to wilt. Everything should be well-coated in the chili/peanut/oil mixture at this point, with little to no liquid in the pan. Add the sprouts, a few shakes of soy sauce, and pepper to taste, and stir fry another minute or so. Then add the reserved marinade and the cornstarch slurry, and stir fry another minute. Remove immediately to a (heat-safe!) bowl.

7. Serve over noodles (or rice) and top with fried shallots (a bit of a specialty item, but available in Vietnamese-oriented grocery stores.)


RW said...

ha, just in time for my recent "let's try to get everything down to three ingredients" kick!

Brian said...

There are three ingredients in this: tofu, vegetables, and noodles. (Everything else is seasoning or cooking medium.)


Gino said...

who was it that decided for us all that tofu tasted good and should be eaten just because it's available?

this sounds good, with tofu, or fried taters.

Brian said...

I'm sure it would work splendidly with chicken or pork, too.

I'm a long-time tofu skeptic, myself. I think most meat eaters (of which I am still very much one) are put off by all the "substitute" tofu products (tofurkey, etc.) and rightly so, because they are terrible.

However, if you treat it as a foodstuff worth having in it's own right--and, very importantly, have access to the fresh, high quality stuff--and learn how to cook it they way people in SE Asia have been cooking it for centuries, it can be really good.

Brown the outside for texture, and use a bit more oil and sauce for flavoring than you might for an equivalent quantity of meat. Tofu is kind of like of like eggplant: it tends to soak up the flavor of everything you cook it in.

Gino said...

in my 20's, i altered the childhood staple that i always knew(fried egg and bell pepper sandwich), by subbing tofu for one egg, instead of two.
why? because tofu was yummy, good for you and cool, while eggs were bad and very uncool.

after a couple yrs, i realized the foolishness of it all, and since have looked with skepticism upon anything 'tofu' unless it was a real authentic asian thing that was supposed to have tofu.

this also meant the menu had to be in chinese(or whatever) and an english menu had to be requested before it was brought out.
any place that cooked for americans, and served tofu, in my eye, was just more of the Tofu Mafia Underground that was trying to remove honest proteins from my diet for my own good.

(now you know where *that* came from.)