Hilary is a vegetarian, and Danielle became a temporary pescatarian for Lent, so I am now the sole meat eater in 159 Coolidge. But in honor of my lovely roommates, I decided to make a tofu dish for dinner this week. I know, I know… but to all of you tofu haters out there (ahem, Sean), my dinner tonight proves that tofu can taste like something other than a soggy sponge. Don’t believe me? Check it out.
For this recipe (which makes enough for 3, or, in my case, dinner for 3 days) you’ll need:
1 block of extra firm tofu (1 lb), cut into bite size pieces
2 T soy sauce, and more to flavor the noodles
2 t sesame oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
salt and pepper
1 T flour
a handful of sliced mushrooms
1 smallish tomato, chopped
1 small orange or yellow pepper and half of a red pepper, sliced into strips
3/4 onion, sliced thinly into rings
1/2 package of spaghetti noodles
1 T dried basil
1 t ginger
Ok. First you need to take the tofu out of its package. Note: it will be scary, slippery and slimey. It will look like a brick of rubber painted with white out. You will jiggle it and wonder why you are voluntarily choosing to eat it. But breathe, and start cutting it into bite size pieces. Put those pieces in a bowl and add 2 T of the soy sauce, the sesame oil, 1 large clove of minced garlic and salt and pepper to the bowl. Mix around the tofu (be careful – it’s fragile and can tear easily) so that it starts to absorb the marinade. You’ll let it sit in the marinade for the next 20 or so minutes while you chop and prepare the rest of your ingredients.
You should always marinate tofu because it actually is kind of like a sponge. It soaks up the flavors around it. Flavorless tofu is the result of flavorless cooking. But yummy tofu happens when you add mass amounts of flavor to the tofu, even before you start cooking. As it sits in the bowl, it will absorb the great Thai flavors in the marinade. You will like it. So set it aside.
Next, boil water for your pasta, and set a large saucepan on the stove with a drizzle of olive oil. Cut up all of your ingredients (see above). Then throw your sliced mushrooms and tomatoes into the saucepan once it gets hot, and let them saute until the mushrooms start to brown and the tomatoes get slightly mushy. Take them off the heat and set them aside in a small bowl.
Add vegetable oil (it’s better for frying) to the saucepan and grab your tofu. Sprinkle the tofu with flour and mix it around so that the flour coats most, if not all, of the pieces. Wait for the pan to sizzle (you’ll hear it), and then start to add the tofu to the pan. Handle it gently – it’s fragile stuff – and place the squares one by one in the pan. Leave the extra marinade in the bowl – you’ll need it later!
The rest of the tofu action is a lesson in patience. Grab a pair of tongs and sit back, relax and imagine how wonderful that little sponge is going to taste when you’re done with it. Good tofu has some crunch (at least in my opinion), so you want to let it develop a nice, brown crust before you flip it. Your stove should be on medium high heat, so give the pieces about 2-3 minutes each until you flip them. Flip them once, and then let them sit again. Sometimes they’ll get stuck on the pan, and you can’t grab them too hard or they’ll come apart into little pieces. But that’s ok, and after a few rounds, you should get the hang of it. Continue this until all sides of the tofu pieces are mostly browned. Note: These are little cubes. They have 6 sides, so this process will take 12 minutes or more. BE PATIENT. You won’t regret it!
After the tofu looks adequately browned, place it in a small bowl and set it aside.
Wash your pan, and then return it to a medium high heat with a drizzle of olive oil. Add your onions and peppers to the pan, and saute them until they are caramelized and brown. Again, be patient. Raw onions are no bueno! Once they start to look opaque, add in another clove of garlic and some salt and pepper.
Then slowly begin to add back in the other ingredients. Your pasta should have been done about 20 minutes ago, so add it back into the mix. Add your mushrooms and tomatoes, and stir it all together. Pour the extra marinade back over the noodles, and then add another drizzle of soy sauce and sesame oil to the pan (the marinade won’t give you quite enough sauce). I’m obsessed with sesame oil lately – it’s expensive, but a little bit goes a long way! Sprinkle the whole mixture with salt and pepper, and add basil and ginger too. Mix everything with your tongs, and let it all cook together for a moment to meld the flavors together. Then grab your crispy little tofu squares and toss them into the mix. Be careful not to crush them with your tongs, but mix them in with the noodles and vegetables and let the whole thing cook for another few minutes… and you’re done!
If you don’t like tofu this way, I don’t think you’ll ever like it! Some people have an issue with the texture of tofu, but I usually just hate that it tastes like a piece of paper dredged in water. Not so with this recipe! The tofu pieces are flavorful, crispy and delicious. I’m not fully a vegetarian convert yet (I mean, come on, I can’t live without bacon, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to turn down barbecue ribs or a nice steak), but this kind of food isn’t half bad!
Lots of love,