Saturday, August 8, 2009
My sister took me out for Vietnamese food yesterday, and we both loved what we ordered so much that we made plans to explore this cooking genre ourselves. I started today. This is a recipe based on this one, but, well, simplified, and augmented.
Also, a note on tofu. It took me a long time to get the whole "pressing tofu" thing, because for a long time the only tofu I could buy was "firm" or "extra-firm" (or "silken" in its aseptic packages—substitute "gross"—I never buy this) and you can "press" it by rolling slices of it up in a tea towel and leaning on the tofu-tea-towel structure with all your strength until it yields up some moisture…which doesn't seem right…until I discovered "fresh" tofu. Whoa. This stuff is the elixir of life.
On the tofu-seitan preference question, I come down firmly, with the weight of an elephant dropped from outer space (which would, of course, be very, very wrong), on the side of tofu. It is not in the least "meaty", and in its very freshest form is awesome in itself. We in Edmonton, Alberta, have our own tofu factory, Ying Fat Tofu Products Ltd., which is located not far from my workplace downtown, and their tofu is the best I've ever tasted, though I must say that it is hard to buy the non-deep-fried version, which I prefer, from the intimidating owner's-mother who mans the front desk. So I like it fresh, not fried. Chinese mom, is that a crime?
My courage often fails me, and then I buy the Sunrise brand from Superstore, which is also good. It comes in plastic packages bathed in tofu-water. You can use it as is, but it's even more awesome if you press it, which here means placing a big square of it in a wire-mesh colander balanced on an empty glass and putting a bowl full of water on top of that and leaving it for an hour or so. Here's the before/after picture:
So, here's my version of a very wonderful recipe:
½ pound fresh tofu
1 tsp canola oil
2 tbsp finely chopped ginger
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
¼ small onion, finely sliced
1 tsp sambal olek
3 scallions, finely chopped
juice and zest of half a lime
a few additional vegetables, for stirfry
julienned zucchini (optional, but wonderful)
Press the tofu for an hour or so, then chop into bite-sized cubes. Heat the canola oil in a non-stick skillet and, when hot, add the tofu cubes and cook for five minutes, until browned on at least one side. Add the ginger, garlic, and onion, and continue to fry until the tofu is browned on several sides and the ginger, garlic, and onion are soft. Add the sambal olek, the lime juice and zest, and continue to cook until the whole has reached perfection (I had added four quartered cherry tomatoes, but this detracted from rather than added to the awesomeness of this recipe, so don't repeat my mistake).
Meanwhile, in a separate wok or skillet, you can cook a few other vegetables in a little canola oil if you like—I cooked finely sliced sweet red pepper.
Also meanwhile, put a pot of water on to boil, and, when boiling, add about a quarter's width of rice noodles, and, when nearly cooked, add some julienned zucchini and continue to cook for another two minutes, then drain.
Place the rice noodle (and zucchini, if using) mixture in a bowl, add the stirfried vegetables, and top with the tofu.