Tofu


Every now and then I get adventurous and decide to try to replicate something I’ve eaten at a restaurant. I usually don’t get that close to the original, but it’s a fun exercise to go through. Plus, if I’m lucky it still tastes good.

This particular culinary adventure was inspired by a visit to Andy Nguyen’s Restaurant (voted best vegetarian restaurant in Sacramento in 2010). Somehow I got into a conversation about spring rolls with my advisor (we tend to talk about random things like this) and he claimed this was the place to go if you like spring rolls. To sell it even further, he described it as an exotic version of Ding How, a Chinese restaurant in Davis that makes fantastic vegetarian “meat” dishes. While I love Ding How, the ‘exotic’ claim scared me a little. You see, for whatever reason, ‘exotic’ just makes me think of weird, slimy food with random animal parts. I know, how open-minded am I? Knowing this was a little ridiculous and given that this was a vegetarian restaurant, I decided to try the place anyway.

As it turns out, Andy Nguyen’s Restaurant lived up to its hype. There was a wide variety of spring rolls to choose from (among many other interesting dishes), all with funny Buddhism-influenced names, like Enlighten Mind Rolls and Nirvana Lemon Salad. We settled on the Karma Roll as an appetizer, which came with mango, grilled tofu, rice noodles, caramelized onions, mint, cilantro, carrots, and slaw. It was probably the tastiest spring roll I’ve ever had, and within a week I set out to try my own version at home.

I made several alterations in my version, including omitting rice noodles. I guess I was going for a low-carb spring roll? I’m not sure, but including rice noodles would probably make it taste more authentic. The other suggestion I have would be to saute the cabbage to soften it a bit before putting it in the spring rolls. The raw cabbage has a nicer color, but it ended up being a little on the hard-to-digest side, and that comes from a girl who goes out of her way to eat large quantities of fiber. So trust me on that one.

The recipe I included below is a place to start, but you could tweak it in an infinite number of ways, depending on what you like and what’s in season. The dipping sauce we made came from a Thai grilled chicken recipe in the Best Recipes Grilling and Barbecue cookbook. It is simultaneously sweet, tangy and spicy and worked great with these spring rolls, but you could also make a peanut sauce or something soy sauce based if that sounds better to you. With the exception of the dipping sauce, this whole project was an experimental adventure. I’m learning that cooking without a recipe, while sometimes daunting, can be really fun and satisfying! (That said, I still included my recipe below!)

——————————————–
Mango Tofu Spring Rolls
inspired by the Karma Roll at Andy Nguyen’s Restaurant; dipping sauce from Cook’s Illustrated Guide to Grilling and Barbecue

Ingredients
Dipping sacue
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
1/4 cup lime juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce
3 small garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Tofu marinade
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup dry sherry
1/6 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 pound tofu
2 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil

2 ripe mangos, peeled and diced
4 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
2 cups shredded red cabbage (*we used raw, but I would suggest sauteeing it in a bit of oil until it softens; then let it cool to room temperature*)
1/2 cup mint, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup basil, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup peanuts, coarsely chopped
1 package rice paper wraps
large bowl warm water
sushi rolling mat

Directions
1. Make the dipping sauce.
Whisk the ingrdients in a small bowl until the sugar dissolves. Let stand 1 hour at room temperature to allow the flavors to meld.

2. Bake the tofu.
In a small saucepan, bring the tofu marinade ingredients to a boil. Simmer for 1 minute and remove from the heat. Press tofu between layers of paper towels to remove moisture. Then cut the blocks of tofu into 3 slabs. Place the slabs in a single layer in a nonreactive heatproof pan. Pour the marinade over the tofu, sprinkle on 2 tablespoons of oil, and set aside for about 5 minutes. Preheat the broiler. Broil the tofu for 7 to 8 minutes, until lightly browned; then turn it over with a spatula and brown the other side (another 4-5 minutes). Remove from pan and set aside. When cool, slice the tofu into long “matchsticks,” about 1/4 inch wide.

3. Prepare rice wraps.
Before assembling the spring rolls, you should have all your ingredients handy, including a bowl or warm water and a sushi rolling mat if you have one. Take a rice wrapper and submerge it in the water for about 10-15 seconds to let it soften. Then remove it from the water and center it on the rolling mat, rough side down.

4. Assemble spring rolls.
Layer ingredients in a line along the right-center side of the wrap, leaving 1 1/2 inches of wrap on the top and bottom open. See the pictures above for a guide of how much filling to put in. If anything, put less than you think you need. Next fold in the two ends and start rolling from the right side until the wrap is closed. This is sort of like rolling a really, really delicate burrito. The first few will probably break, but you’ll eventually get the hang of it.

Advertisements

I’m always disappointed when I try to stir fry tofu. I can never get it to absorb the flavors of a marinade and it’s never as crisp as I would like. Frustrated by this, I started asking my vegetarian friends for advice and got two useful tips: 1) buy a dense tofu (if you live in Davis, the Sacramento Tofu Company tofu that comes in a vacuum-sealed package works well) and 2) bake–rather than saute–it! This fall/winter Vicken and I took both pieces of advice to heart and found our new favorite way to prepare tofu.

You start by slicing the block of tofu in half and pressing it between paper towels to remove excess water. Then you slice it into bite sized pieces and place those in a baking dish. Next you make a marinade on the stove top and pour it over the tofu.

You can let the tofu hang out in the marinade for a few minutes, but i wouldn’t leave it too long. You want the tofu to take up the flavors of the marinade, but if it sits too long before baking the tofu will take up all the soy sauce and be too salty. Halfway through the baking time, I turn each piece of tofu over, rather than haphazardly stirring it. This is a little bit of a pain, but if you’re anal like me and want the tofu to be evenly browned, it’s worth it.


With this newfound cooking method, I began baking tofu for all kinds of things, including salads. I managed to not get totally sick of the quinoa salads I was making this summer and made a winter version to take on a climbing trip recently. I made it with tofu, broccoli and toasted almonds, but you could get creative and add whatever veggies you have on hand.


As the weather has gotten warmer recently, I have been dreaming about tomatoes and cucumbers and all the summer quinoa salads that are just around the corner! Before I can plant the summer garden I’ve still got quite a lot of beets, beet greens, chard, and carrots to eat. I just don’t know if I can take another week of cooked greens! On the off chance that you aren’t sick of them yet, you’ll be hearing about a good recipe involving greens, sweet potatoes, and black beans in an upcoming post! I’ll do my best not to put it off too long…

——————————————–
Baked tofu
recipe from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home by The Moosewood Collective

Ingredients
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup dry sherry
1/6 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 pound tofu
2 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil

Directions
1. In a small saucepan, bring the marinade ingredients to a boil. Simmer for 1 minute and remove from the heat.

2. Cut the blocks of tofu into 1/2 inch slices, then cut the slices into 1 inch squares. Place the squares in a single layer in a nonreactive heatproof pan. Pour the marinade over the tofu squares, sprinkle on 2 tablespoons of oil, and set aside for about 5 minutes.

3. Preheat the broiler. Broil the tofu for 7 to 8 minutes, until lightly browned; then turn it over with a spatula and brown the other side (another 4-5 minutes). Remove from pan and set aside until ready to add to salad.

———————————-
Quinoa salad

Ingredients
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
pinch sugar
pinch salt
pepper

2-3 cups chopped broccoli
1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds
1 pound tofu, cubed and baked (see recipe above)

Directions
1. Combine water and quinoa in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Drain any excess liquid from quinoa and set aside to cool to room temperature. (You can make the quinoa ahead of time and refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the rest of the salad.)

2. Meanwhile, steam or blanch broccoli for 3-4 minutes, until it is tender, but retains its bright green color. Remove from heat immediately and put into a strainer. Run cold water over the broccoli for a few seconds to stop the cooking and then shake off excess water.

2. Combine olive oil, vinegar, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper in a jar and shake to combine. Pour the dressing over the quinoa and mix well. Add the broccoli and tofu and stir to combine. Top with the toasted almonds and serve immediately.