My first experiment with tofu went so well that I decided I wanted to try it again. When flipping through an Asian cookbook my mother had given me, I came across a tofu recipe. Instead of flipping past it, like I used to, I read the recipe. It sounded potentially tasty and filling, so I put it on the menu for this week.
Spiced Tofu Stir-Fry (The Everyday Chinese Cookbook, ed. by Linda Doeser, p. 344)
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- good pinch of cayenne pepper
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- 10 oz firm tofu
- oil for frying
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 bunch spring onions, sliced
- 1 red pepper, sliced
- 1 yellow pepper, sliced
- 8 oz brown-cap mushrooms, halved or quartered if very large
- 1 large courgette, sliced
- 4 oz fine green beans, halved
- 1/2 cup pine nuts
- 1 tbsp lime juice
- 1 tbsp clear honey
- salt and ground black pepper
“1. Mix together the cumin, paprika, ginger, cayenne, and sugar with plenty of seasoning. Cut the tofu into cubes and coat them thoroughly in the spice mixture.
2. Heat some oil in a preheated wok or large frying pan. Cook the tofu over a high heat for 3-4 minutes, turning occasionally. Take care not to break up the tofu too much. Remove with a slotted spoon. Wipe out the wok or pan with a paper towel.
3. Add a little more oil to the wok or frying pan and stir-fry the garlic and spring onions for 3 minutes. Add the remaining vegetables and stir-fry over a medium heat for 6 minutes, or until beginning to soften and turn golden. Season well.
4. Return the tofu to the pan with the pine nuts, lime juice, and honey. Heat through and serve. ”
This was one of the longest lists of ingredients I’d seen in awhile, which both intimidated and appealed to me. It certainly sounded healthy, with tofu and so many vegetables included. First, I had to google what a courgette was. It’s French for zucchini, apparently. I didn’t know what caster sugar was either. I googled that, and discovered that it’s a finely ground sugar, not as fine as powdered sugar (which apparently has starch mixed into it–potential gluten alert!), but more finely ground than regular sugar, and certainly more finely ground than the organic cane sugar I had.
So the subsitutions started. First, I used the powdered sugar I had in the pantry, instead of caster sugar. I wasn’t going to food process regular sugar, and I thought the powdered sugar would blend just as well as the caster sugar would have. (I was relieved to see the powdered sugar was blended with corn starch, not gluten.) I also didn’t have any fresh peppers, since I try not to buy them out of season, so I used frozen stir fry mix–3 colors of frozen red peppers and white onion chopped roughly together. Because that blend contained white onion, I left out the spring onions the recipe called for. The last substitution was the mushrooms–I had two small cans of regular sliced organic mushrooms. I wasn’t sure that they were exactly what the recipe was calling for, but I am not yet a mushroom connoisseur, so I didn’t worry about it too much. I just threw in what I had.
The tofu I bought was extra firm, but frankly the firmer my tofu the better. I did not spend much time pressing/ drying/ draining the tofu this time, but I wish I had. The texture ended up being much less dense than my last batch of tofu, and more squishy instead. If I make this again, I’ll definitely dry it thoroughly first. The tofu also came in a brick that was 4 oz more than the recipe called for–not a huge difference, so I used it all, and simply increased the number of spices. Tossing the tofu cubes with the spices enough to coat them without causing the cubes to start to break up was challenging, but soon they were looking nice and toasty red and tan.
I used a frying pan, assuming my pan was a large one. Apparently not. The hot oil splashed all over me, my stove, and my counters, with a nice paprika blush to it. And the pan was almost full, with just the tofu. Plus, even with oil in the pan, the tofu coating stuck to the pan and constantly had to be scraped, to keep from burning. This all made it very difficult not to accidentally break the tofu cubes. So I put the tofu cubes aside in a bowl once heated, and replaced the frying pan with my saute pan.
I thew the vegetables into the clean saute pan next. I put the garlic and stir fry blend in first and sauteed until soft. Then I added the courgette/ zucchini, the mushrooms, and the green beans (I measured out frozen ones.). Once they were all thoroughly heated and softened, I added the tofu, pine nuts, and the honey lime mixture.
I realized after cooking that when the directions said to mix the spices with “plenty of seasoning”, they meant the salt and pepper. Because I didn’t realize that til later, I forgot to add either salt or pepper to the dish at all, and had to salt according to taste after serving, instead. Perhaps the lack of salt and pepper contributed to the mildness of the flavor of the dish. The flavor was not bad, but it was almost bland. “Subtle” was how Brian diplomatically described it.
Also, possibly because I did not dry the tofu sufficiently, or perhaps due to my general lack of tofu cooking skills, many of the cubes had started to crumble. In general, the dish looked like a hot mess. Despite that, we both had seconds, and left the meal feeling very satisfied.
I’d be curious to try this recipe again, although I think I would have to adjust it, based on experience. Perhaps if I thoroughly dried the tofu the day before cooking it, and left it sitting in a dry marinade of the spices overnight, the flavor would be more completely absorbed, and the texture would be more chewy and less squishy. I hope so. I like tofu, and I want to master it. Cooking it well is just going to take practice.