Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Crispy Ginger Orange Tofu and Vegetables

This was my first experience cooking with tofu, which I've long thought I hated. I live in a very tofu-centric community, and perhaps my resistance was just due to my inherent oppositionality (new word of the day). But I have to believe there's some validity to my distaste. It's got that freaky texture, after all: gummy and spongy, like hardboiled egg whites (I hate hardboiled eggs) with no taste. Tofu-loving friends of mine have tried me to convince me that there is more to their beloved bean curd than I've believed, saying you can make it flavorful and crispy. I finally decided to give it a go, and adapted three or so recipes into the following. And man, it was good. I mean, I'm usually always right :) but I was wrong about tofu. This had us all sneaking the little leftover crispy tofu bits. My daughter wasn't a big fan of the veggies (but I think next time I'll try peapods, which she likes) but she liked the tofu and sauce and rice (though she persisted in calling the tofu chicken).

This is a recipe you can play with a lot. Cook up some brown rice to serve with. Sub whatever vegetables you've got on hand. Recently, I had to use half lemon juice, as I only had one orange in the house. It was very tart, so I added a tablespoon of honey while cooking the sauce. It was still very tart, but also delicious, and Mary still loved it. The trick of dusting the tofu with cornstarch is apparently very helpful in making it golden and crispy.

*1 lb firm or extra-firm tofu
*Soy Sauce
*Dry Sherry
*Sesame Oil
*Vegetable Oil
*Several cups of vegetables prepared to stir-fry. I used thinly sliced carrots, broccoli slaw, and green onions. Cabbage, spinach, mushrooms, regular onions would all be good, too, I think.
*1 TBS toasted sesame seeds (or more, if you'd like)
*1 1/2-2 TBS grated fresh ginger
*2 or 3 large garlic cloves, minced
*3/4 c orange juice

A few hours, or the night before you want to eat, slice the tofu into four to six thin slices. Place on a kitchen towel, then wrap the towel over the tofu and weight the whole lot down (I put a cookie sheet on top, then a few big cookbooks). This presses the water out of the tofu. You may need to change the towel part of the way through.

When done, cut the tofu into approximately 1" cubes and put in a ziploc bag. Add a splash of soy sauce, a splash of sherry, and some sesame oil (amounts aren't really important). Marinate in the fridge for at least an hour.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil in large nonstick skillet over medium to medium-high heat. While it's heating, pat tofu cubes dry and lightly dust with cornstarch (I put some cornstarch in a small wire sieve and tapped it over them, turning them occasionally). When very hot, add tofu cubes and cook, stirring occasionaly to turn them over, until they are golden brown and crispy. Be patient at first, as it takes awhile for them to start browning. Watch carefully at the end and lower heat as necessary, as they can suddenly begin to burn. Remove tofu to plate.

Add vegetables to the hot pan-remembering to add the ones that take longest to cook first. So in my case I added the carrots, cooked, stirring constantly for a minute or two, then added the broccoli slaw. When both were done but still had some crispness to them, I added a couple of chopped green onions and the sesame seeds. Stir fry for a few seconds and then remove to a second plate or bowl.

Reduce heat to medium-low. Add ginger, garlic, orange juice, a TBS of soy sauce, and 2 TBS of sesame oil. Cook, stirring constantly, until it's bubbly and well-combined. Add tofu to sauce and heat through until the sauce coats the tofu and is somewhat thickened.

Spoon veggies over rice, and then tofu and sauce overall to serve.

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