Join me on my culinary journey into the world of meatless, vegetarian and vegan cuisine. Cooking honest food – by honest I mean unfussy dishes with an emphasis on fresh, seasonal produce where the essence of the ingredients shine – has always been my focus, as has enjoying and learning about regional and international cuisines. Many of these meals have been meat-centric, so my (and my family’s) new year’s intention of eating less meat has given me the opportunity to excavate the vegetarian cookbooks that I have, and reason to purchase a few new ones.
The Passionate Vegetarian is the ONE cookbook I own that holds special meaning and sentimental value to me because it was written by a phenomenal woman and writer named Crescent Dragonwagon (is that really her name : o), who owned and operated the Dairy Hollow House in my hometown. The Dairy Hollow House (totally on Wikipedia!) exists today as The Writers’ Colony in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Many of the recipes tested in the TM kitchen this year will be from this imaginative, beautifully written, anthology of a cookbook (click on TM Shop above to check it out).
Now, are you ready to put the POW! on some tofu? “Crisping” the tofu adds an appealing browned, crispy-chewy exterior that is very pleasing, especially for diners not so familiar with tofu. Used in Kung Pao Tofu, it also works well in any stir-fry.
16 ounces firm tofu (the package I bought was 14 oz.)
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 T. mirin (Japanese rice wine) or sherry
2 T. cornstarch
½ t. salt
several grinds of fresh ground pepper
1. Can be prepared the day before, but at least one hour before you plan to bake the tofu, combine the ingredients in a bowl, stirring well. Slice the tofu into ½ inch strips, then cut the strips into 1½ inch piece. Place in bowl with sauce and toss to coat. Let stand for at least 40 minutes at room temperature or cover and refrigerate overnight.
2. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Spray baking sheet with cooking spray.
3. Lay marinated tofu on baking sheet in a single layer. Bake until browned and lightly crisped on the bottom, 10-15 minutes. Turn pieces and bake another 5-10 minutes. While the tofu is baking, prepare the ingredients for Kung Pao Tofu below.
Kung Pao Tofu
1 recipe of Oven-Baked Tofu
2/3 cup organic, low-sodium vegetable stock
3 T. tamari or low-sodium soy sauce
2 T. mirin (Japanese rice wine) or dry sherry
1 T. honey
1 T. cornstarch
1 T. vegetable oil, preferably peanut
4-6 dried red chiles
2 T. ginger, finely chopped or zested*
2 t. garlic, minced
½ lb. green beans, tips cut off, cut on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces
½ c. water
1 bunch scallions, split lengthwise and cut into ¾ inch lengths
⅓ cup honey-roasted peanuts
1. As the tofu bakes, combine the stock, soy sauce, mirin, honey, and cornstarch and whisk to break up lumps.
2. Prepare your mise en place* and place next to the stove.
3. Place the vegetable oil in the seasoned wok or skillet over high heat. Let it get very, very hot – it will be fragrant with a glazed, swirly look on top. Ad teh chiles and stir-fry for one minute. Working quickly, scoop the chiles out of the pan with a slotted spoon, leaving as much oil as possible. Reserve the chiles in their bowl on the “mise” tray.
4. Add the ginger and garlic, and stir-fry for 10-20 seconds. Add the green beans or asparagus, stir-fry for 10 seconds, then add the water and immediately put the lid on. Let steam over very high heat until veggies are crisp-tender and the water has almost evaporated, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the lid, allow any remaining water to boil off. Toss in the green onions, stir-fry for 2o seconds. Stir the sauce mixture to re-blend and pour into the hot pan. Cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce becomes a clear, thick glaze – about 30 seconds. Add the oven-baked tofu and honey roasted peanuts. Serve immediately, over rice (preferably brown rice).
*If you’re not an avid cook or foodie, this may be an unfamiliar term: Mise en place (pronounced MEEZ-ahn-plahs) is both a French term and a method. It means “put to place” and is the arrangement of all the prepared ingredients in bowls on the counter or on a tray so that they are ready to go.
Note: You may have noticed that I left the tofu in strips – this was actually a result of not reading carefully, but it allowed me to style the dish in a visually arresting pyramid 🙂 Also, I did not use whole chiles, but rather just a sprinkling of prepared red chile peppers because I didn’t want it to be too spicy for the younger generation.