Archives for posts with tag: tofu

In a previous life I probably wouldn’t have made pho at home. I figured someone else could do it better, and cheaper, at a restaurant than I could at home.

Living in Hartford has its hidden perks: the lack of veggie-friendly Vietnamese restaurants has made me less of a snob about what I cook. We made this twice last week and the broth is perfect.

The recipe is at The Kitchn. I followed the broth recipe exactly, and then I followed it imprecisely (the carrots were gone). It’s better when you follow the recipe exactly. Veggies and tofu (broccoli, bok choy, shiitakes, thinly sliced marinated tofu, steamed acorn squash) go in the bowl with the rice noodles (which are best when you soak them in boiling rather than merely hot water). Herbs, lime chunks, and bean sprouts go on the side.  Action soup.

The action extends to the prep: there’s a lot of it. But once you have a stash of clean, dry herbs and greens, the soup becomes easy. I would plan to make it twice in a week.

aerial pho

pho with waning paperwhites

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Many, many people have asked me for this recipe. We used to make it for our deli at Amber Waves, and when we stopped, addicts forced me to give it out. It comes originally from the Mori-nu tofu company, I changed it a tiny bit, subbing red onion for scallions. I’ll include a substitution for the hard to find Simply Organic onion soup mix as well.

Spinach Dip

1 10 oz. package Mori-nu silken tofu, or other silken tofu
1 10 oz. pkg frozen, thawed, organic spinach
2-3 cloves garlic
1 pkg. Simply Organic onion soup/dip mix
1/2 C Veganaise
1/4 C chopped red onion
1 8 oz. can waterchestnuts, drained, rinsed and diced

Peel the garlic and put the cloves in your food processor. Pulse until tiny bits cover the sides of the bowl.

Squeeze thawed spinach over the sink with all your might, you want it pretty dry. It takes me three handfuls to accomplish this.

Add squeezed spinach, Veganaise, onion soup mix and tofu to processor, buzz till smooth.


Remove dip from processor and put it in a mixing bowl. Coarsely chop the waterchestnuts, finely dice the onion, and mix in by hand. Yeah, you can throw them in the processor, but the texture comes out too fine to notice there’s anything different in there. You want a nice crunch.

Serve with chips, or spread on sandwiches. Because this is tofu based, this
dip will not freeze. Keeps well in the fridge – about a week!

Substitution for onion soup mix:

2 T dried onion flakes
1 T tamari soy sauce
1 vegetable bouillon cube (one that makes 1 C, I have to cut mine in half as they make 2 cups)
1 T boiling water

Dissolve bouillon in hot water, add to tofu mix along with the onion flakes and tamari. Onion flakes take longer to hydrate in the dip than the soup mix, so plan to let the dip sit for an hour before serving.

A word to the wise–DON’T use Knorr onion soup mix. It’s just plain terrible. I know.

In the past, when I’ve followed recipes labeled “thai curry” it’s meant that I’m able to stave off a Thai take-out order for about 18 more hours. Which is to say that my kinda Thai cookings have not really sated any cravings–just made them harder to ignore.

Well, meet the new boss. A few weeks ago, I started daydreaming about a pumpkin curry I had at a Laotian restaurant near Jo’s house in Madison. If I remember correctly she doesn’t even really like this curry, but I loved it, and I also enjoyed figuring out how to pronounce “Laotian.” With a fair amount of geographic fudging I decided to seek out a Thai curry recipe–no matter what I was going to end up using a tinned curry paste so I figured drop the pretense of authenticity early on, right?

I have no idea if this curry is any decent approximation of real, live Thai food (let alone Laotian)–but it is definitely as tasty as the take-out place down the street, and will delay your inevitable take-out order by two weeks. The sauce is pleasantly murky–pretty luscious with the fatty coconut milk, and spicy from the added chiles. The recipe allows for as much improvisation as you like–vegetables, protein–but I would recommend keeping the acorn squash, especially if you’ve never had it in a curry, and frying the tofu. If you’ve ever been wary of cubed tofu, frying it might be the ticket. With a little textural interest tofu becomes palatable, even good–and I don’t like tofu that much.

Thai Curry with Acorn Squash and Fried Tofu
a riff on Nigella’s recipe
serves 5-6

A note on coconut milk. Whenever I’ve bought the low-fat kind I’ve been disappointed. This time I bought a sketchy $.99 can of the stuff from Albertson’s, which made no claims about its fat content. It didn’t have the layer of fatty coconut goo on the top, but it also wasn’t totally austere. If you don’t find any such cans, get the full fat kind. Discard the layer of cream on top, if you’re trying to avoid excess fat, or go ahead and use it. That’s what I’d do.

Also, if you’re veggie just leave out the fish sauce. I forgot it until the last minute and while it adds a nice tang the dish is still wonderful without it.

4 t canola oil, divided, plus more for frying
2 serrano chiles, finely sliced
3 garlic cloves, finely sliced
2 T Thai red curry paste
1 14-oz. can coconut milk
1 14-oz. can water
1 vegetable bouillon cube
3 lemongrass stalks, lengthy dry tips removed, the juicier ends bashed with the flat of a big knife
1/4 t tumeric
2 T fish sauce (optional)
2 T brown sugar
1/4 t lime zest
1 sm. to med. acorn squash
1/2 large yellow onion, sliced
1 green pepper, cut into squares
1 lb. firm tofu, cut into cubes
2 handfuls of green beans (I like frozen haricots verts)
1 handful basil leaves (about 10 big ones)

In a medium soup pot or dutch oven, heat up 2 t of canola oil over medium heat. Add the chiles and garlic and a little salt and stir until the garlic turns golden. Add the curry paste, let it toast for 30 seconds or so with the garlic and chiles, then add the coconut milk. Fill the coconut milk can with water and add it too, along with the bouillon cube, lemongrass stalks, tumeric, fish sauce, brown sugar, and lime zest.

As you bring this sauce to a boil, deal with the acorn squash. Cut it in half and scoop out the seeds. Then cut the halves in half, and cut these quarters into rings. Finally, cut the rings into 1-inch cubes. Add them to the sauce, skin and all–you’ll never notice the skin and it is a royal pain to remove.

Simmer the squash in the sauce for 10-15 minutes, until the squash is tender. As it cooks, slice up the onion and pepper. Then heat a large skillet over high heat until the pan is really scorching–you want to blister these veggies, so be brave. Add the remaining 2 t of canola oil when the pan is hot, then dump in the onions and peppers. Distribute them evenly in the pan and then let them alone for a minute. They’ll spatter but it’s ok. Toss them around once, let them sit for another 30 seconds or so, and remove them from the pan once the peppers have some brown spots on them and the onions are a little wilted. Set them aside for now.

In the same skillet, pour in a hefty layer of canola oil for frying the tofu. It should cover the bottom of the pan, no swirling necessary, to a depth of about .5 cm (1/4 of an inch or so for those of you who cannot form a mental picture using the metric system). Heat the oil over med-high heat and add the tofu cubes in a single layer. You need a fair amount of oil for this operation so don’t skimp–the tofu want to stick, and there is nothing lost when you use more oil. Start checking the tofu after 2 minutes–when it’s golden, flip it all around. Pry up any recalcitrant pieces with a spatula. Continue frying and turning until the tofu is golden brown on many of its sides. Drain it on a plate lined with paper towels and discard the extra oil.

Now add the green beans to the simmering squash. Stir to combine and bring back to a simmer. As soon as you’ve reached the simmer the green beans are probably done–that’s the only thing that has to cook, so keep checking it. When the green beans are done, add in the tofu, onions and peppers. Keep the heat on for a minute until everything is nice and hot, then turn off the heat, tear the basil leaves roughly, and stir them into the curry.

Serve with basmati rice and lime wedges.

The first time I ate mapo tofu I thought it was fine. The second time I found myself wondering when it was going to arrive at the table, and then eating as much of it as I could while it was still really hot, avoiding my pile of rice so that I could fit more tofu into my stomach. I don’t know what changed between those two meals, but we’ve become so obsessed that whenever we go to Chung King we order the same items: mapo tofu, dry fried green beans, and fried shrimp with hot peppers.

I really am not the sort of person who orders the same thing time after time. But I can’t imagine driving all the way to the San Gabriel valley and not eating one of those three dishes. And logistically, it’s the perfect amount of food for two people. So there you go. We order the same thing every time.

Getting to Chung King around dinnertime involves a pretty grueling drive on the 10, past downtown and two of the worst interchanges in the city, then another ten miles further. I can’t (or am yet unwilling) to attempt fried shrimp, but I figured the other two dishes were totally recreatable, especially if I hunted down the right ingredients. This meant putting off the project for quite some time, because every time I was at grocery in San Gabriel I had forgotten exactly what sort of chili paste I needed. Besides which, if I was at a grocery that might have the right ingredients that meant I was only a few blocks from Chung King, so who cares about buying the right dried shrimp let’s goooooooo please.

I finally amassed the kit, though, and like my grandfather, who when I was a child was on a perpetual mission to make perfect jiaozi, I’ve made the dishes a few times and noodled around enough with the recipes that I am pleased. They’re tasty enough that they can delay a necessary trip to the SGV for at least a few weeks. I will warn you, making both of these is a time investment. I spent a full hour assembling the mise en place, which you have to do because once the pan is hot everything moves very fast. But you don’t have to make both! Mapo tofu, rice, and a nice salad dressed with some citrus and toasted sesame oil would be a lovely dinner. And although the green beans are great as is, the best thing about the recipe is the cooking technique. Fry up some fresh (and dry) green beans in a few tablespoons of oil, tossing them until some are blistered, then salt them and let the oil drain off on paper towels or a tea towel. Cooking them this way will improve your affection for green beans, even if it’s already strong: this technique is so much better than steaming them, or even steaming and then sauteing them. You won’t believe how many green beans you want to eat if you fry them up.

Mapo Tofu
adapted from Appetite for China
serves 2-3 as a main course

I’ve tweaked a few things about these recipes. I think mapo tofu should be shockingly hot, so two teaspoons of sichuan peppercorns isn’t enough. But if you like milder food, then you should use two–you get a little heat, a little numbing, but no pain. The cornstarch needed to be dialed way back. I still advocate adding your cornstarch slurry in two stages, so you can decide just how gloppy you want your tofu. The other seasonings are right on. As for the green beans, I added way more beans–half a pound barely satiates me, let alone anyone else who wants to eat dinner. Strangely enough, you can up the green beans without touching any other part of the recipe, though the dried shrimp is obviously optional, as are the pickled veggies and anything else you don’t have on hand. As I said above, the cooking technique is the star here.

1 1-lb. block silken (soft) tofu, drained and cut into 1-inch cubes
3 T canola oil
1/4 lb. ground pork (optional)
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
2 leeks, thinly sliced
2 1/2 T chili bean sauce
1 T fermented black beans
2-4 t crushed Sichuan peppercorns*
1 C chicken or vegetable stock
2 t white sugar
2 t light soy sauce
2 T cornstarch mixed with 1/4 C cold water

Scallions for garnish

Heat the oil in a wok or big saute pan over high heat. Add the pork, if you’re using it, and cook until crispy and starting to brown. Break it up as much as possible. Reduce heat to medium, then add the garlic and leeks and cook 2-3 minutes.

Add chili bean sauce, black beans, and the Sichuan peppercorns, and cook for about 1 minute. Mash up the beans with a wooden spoon so they can evenly distribute themselves in the sauce.

Pour in the stock and stir well. Mix in the drained tofu very gently–I use a big spatula for this so that I can get under the tofu without breaking it. Season with the sugar and soy sauce. Simmer for about 5 minutes, then add the cornstarch mixture in two stages. I usually push the tofu to the side so that I can pour the cornstarch slurry straight into the sauce and mix it up without disturbing the tofu.

Serve while still super hot. Garnish with scallions and eat with rice.

*my Sichuan peppercorns come whole and I don’t have a spice grinder. So I pulse them with the garlic in the food processor and this crushes them rather coarsely. If you grind the pepper finely your dish will be spicier, I expect.

Dry Fried Green Beans
adapted from Appetite for China
Serves 3-4 as a side dish

3 T canola oil
1 1/2 pound green beans – rinsed, dried, and chopped to 2-inch lengths. The drying is essential.
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
1 t ginger, chopped finely (I do this in the food processor with the ginger)
1 T Sichuan preserved vegetable, rinsed and finely chopped
1/2 T dried shrimp, chopped finely (optional)
5 or 6 dried red chilies
1/2 T chili bean sauce
1/4 t sesame oii
1 t sugar
1/2 t salt

Heat oil in a big saute pan until just beginning to smoke. Add the green beans and toss them around every minute or so, for five minutes total or until the beans are slightly wilted and some are blistered. Some will still be crunchy; I like this but you can cook them more. Remove them from the pan and set aside to drain on paper towels or an old tea towel.

Drain off all but 1 teaspoon of oil from the pan–leave just a little slick. Add the garlic, ginger, preserved vegetable, dried shrimp, and red chilis; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Return beans to the wok, and add chili bean sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and salt. Stir it up and dish it out.

Notes: the dried shrimps don’t make the beans taste shrimpy–they add just a little funkiness. You do want to chop them quite finely though, because getting a hunk of one is funkier than you might like. At the grocery where I find all these ingredients the dried shrimp are in a refrigerated case, and it’s worth it to buy ones that aren’t priced for the bargain basement. But I’ll reiterate–both the shrimps and the preserved vegetable are optional.