Curried Beancurd

Full disclosure – this is really not a Chinese recipe. But since you can occasionally find curry recipes in Chinese cookbooks, and since I just received a lovely gift of some homemade curry powder, I thought, “Why not?” So here it is, with thanks to Madhur Jaffrey for the basic idea. We prefer the silken tofu, but you can certainly use any firm variety.

ingredients:

  • 1 pkg firm silken tofu
  • 1″ piece of fresh ginger root, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 small onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 T oil
  • 1 14-oz can coconut milk
  • 1 T yellow curry powder
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste
  • juice from 1/2 a lemon, to taste
  • 1 sprig fresh basil or 1/4 tsp dried

method:

  1. Cut the tofu into 1/2″ cubes, then soak in salt water (1 c water:1 tsp salt) – this keeps the tofu from breaking apart during cooking.
  2. Place the ginger, garlic, and onion in a blender with 1/4 c water and process until liquified.
  3. Heat the oil in a wok over medium high heat, just until it shimmers.
  4. Add the liquid from the blender and stirfry until slightly less watery.
  5. Add the curry powder, stir to combine, then add the coconut milk.
  6. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 10 m or until slightly thickened.
  7. Season to taste with salt and lemon juice.
  8. Add the tofu and the basil and simmer until the tofu is heated through.

do ahead:

The sauce can be made up to 2 days ahead and stored, tightly covered, in the refrigerator or up to 2 h in advance and left, covered, at room temperature.

variation:

This sauce would go well with all sorts of vegetables and/or meat: stirfry the main ingredients, then add the sauce and stir to combine.

Beancurd with Mushrooms

As the weather gets colder, we’re turning away from our old standby, Chilled Beancurd with Soy Sauce, and thinking of warmer dishes. This is a quick tofu dish that exactly suits that purpose and can easily be made vegan. If fresh mushrooms are not available, you can use 6-8 dried shiitakes, rehydrated in hot water for 30 m – the soaking water can be substituted for the broth or water.

ingredients:

  • 1 pkg extra-firm silken tofu (we like Mori-nu brand)
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 lb fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems reserved for making broth or stock
  • 2 T light soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 T Shaoxing cooking wine or dry sherry
  • 1/2 c homemade chicken or vegetable broth or water
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 T chicken or vegetable broth or water
  • 1 T cooking oil
  • 2 scallions, roll cut into 1/2″ sections
  • 1 T fresh ginger root, cut into matchsticks
  • sea salt to taste

method:

  1. Cut the beancurd into 3/4″ cubes, then soak in a bowl of cold water mixed with the 1/2 tsp sea salt.
  2. Cut the mushroom caps into 1/2″ strips or into quarters
  3. Combine the soy sauce, sugar, cooking wine, and 1/2 c broth and set aside.
  4. Combine the cornstarch with the 1 T of broth and set aside.
  5. Heat the wok over medium high heat, then add the oil just until it shimmers.
  6. Explode the scallion and ginger just until fragrant, then add the mushrooms, stirfrying until just tender.
  7. Add the soy sauce mixture, and bring to a boil.
  8. Add the beancurd and return to a simmer, just until heated through.
  9. Add the cornstarch mixture, stirring gently 1-2 m or until the starchy taste is cooked out.
  10. Adjust seasoning and serve.

Chili Peppers with Pressed Beancurd

I was thrilled to see chili peppers at the Westside Farmers’ Market last Thursday and to find a bell pepper in my CSA box as well. For this dish, choose your favorite chilies from among the larger, spicier varieties such as poblano, anaheim, etc. -or use a mix of green and red varieties. Can’t take the heat? Use bell peppers. This is a great time to use the burner on your outdoor grill or turn the exhaust vent on its highest setting!

Pressed beancurd, called doufu gan (sort of translates into “tofu jerky!”) is literally tofu that has been pressed to squeeze out excess moisture. The result is a firmer texture that some people compare to meat, although the flavor is of course different. Pressed tofu comes in a variety of flavors – the most common one for this dish is plain, which is creamy white with a light tan exterior. You can easily substitute baked tofu, now readily available in most conventional markets, for this ingredient.

ingredients

  • 4 ea chili peppers
  • 2 squares plain pressed beancurd
  • 1 T oil
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp fermented black beans (optional)

method:

  1. Cut the tops off the chilies and remove the seeds (or leave them in if you’re truly brave!)
  2. Cut into sections that are large, but still can be picked up with chopsticks – quarters or eighths are usually a good choice as they will expose a good, flat surface.
  3. Cut the beancurd into thin rectangles, approximately 1/4″x1.5″x1/8″.
  4. Heat the oil in a wok until it shimmers, then stirfry the chilies until they are slightly softened and the skins are a bit charred.
  5. Add the beancurd, stirfry to heat it through.
  6. Season to taste with salt and/or fermented black beans (you may not need both), then serve immediately with lots of rice!

Chocolate Surprise Pie

Full disclosure: this is NOT a Chinese recipe. Not even close. But it contains tofu, and it’s really delicious…. My kids love this pie so much that they often ask me to make it when we have company – they love to make the guests guess what’s in it.

I’m always surprised by people who say, “I HATE tofu!” Very often, their experience of this food is marred by trying to use it as a replacement for meat. My feeling is that if you are trying to replace meat, you’re barking up the wrong tree: tofu is terrific when it’s cooked as tofu. Having said that, silken tofu can also be the base of a lot of dishes in which you would use milk, yogurt, mayonnaise or eggs. That “silken” qualification is important – the crumblier, drier variety of tofu is not much good for these recipes.

Our favorite brand of silken tofu is Mori-nu, which is widely available in conventional grocery stores in the (of course) meat alternative section, often near the produce section or in the deli meat section. It comes in vacuum-sealed cardboard packages, usually in the 12-14 oz range.

ingredients:

  • 8-9″ prebaked pie crust – I prefer to make a cookie-type crust for this pie.
  • 2 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 3/4 c sugar – raw cane is best
  • 1 pkg silken tofu, firm or extra firm
  • 2 T peanut or other nut butter
  • 1/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla

method:

  1. Allow your pie crust to come to room tempterature.
  2. Melt the chocoate in a bowl over a pot of barely simmering water. Bring the chocolate almost to room temperature – you don’t want to let it start to solidify again. To speed up the cooling process, you can remove the chocolate from the heat before it’s all melted and continue stirring it occasionally – the carry-over heat will melt the remaining lumps.
  3. In a food processor, combine the sugar, tofu, nut butter, cocoa powder, and vanilla until smooth.
  4. Add the chocolate, and process until smooth. If you have not brought the chocolate’s temperature down enough and your mixture looks grainy, simply transfer back into the bowl and heat slowly over hot water – it just means your chocolate “seized up” due to a temperature difference between it and the tofu mixture.
  5. Scrape into the pie crust, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

do ahead:

The pie can be made up to 24 hours in advance. Once it has chilled completely, carefully cover it with foil or plastic wrap to keep the filling from forming a “skin.”

Chilled Beancurd with Soy Sauce

This is the simplest of cold dishes and a great source of protein for a vegetarian meal. Tofu is one food our daughter has loved since she was just starting on solid foods – she hated pureed food and demanded something with a bit of texture, so she probably ate tofu just about every day as a toddler. Unlike avocadoes, which she now won’t touch, tofu has never gone out of style for her!

For this recipe, I highly recommend buying the firm silken variety of beancurd – Mori-nu is a widely available brand that can be found in most conventional grocery stores, most often near the Asian produce or “fake meat” section.

ingredients:

  • 1 pkg firm silken beancurd
  • 2 T light soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 pinch freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 tsp cilantro, chopped
  • 1 scallion, minced

method:

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil.
  2. Cut the beancurd into slices, 1/4″ to 1/2″ thick, then let it sit in salted water (1 T salt to 2 c water) while the water in the pot comes to a boil.
  3. Reduce the boiling water to a simmer, the gently lower the tofu into the simmering water using a sieve or a slotted spoon.
  4. After 1/2 m, remove to a plate to cool, then refrigerate 20 m.
  5. Arrange the slices carefully on a serving plate and drizzle with the soy sauce and sesame oil, sprinkle with pepper, cilantro and scallion.

variations:

  • Tofu is already cooked, and the blanching and cooling step is meant only to improve texture and flavor – if you’re in a big hurry, that step can be omitted.
  • Substitute oyster sauce for the soy sauce if you prefer a slightly sweet, thicker sauce.
  • The soy sauce/sesame oil can be served on the side as a dip rather than being poured over the dish.

Braised Beancurd with Mushrooms

Warm and nourishing and vegetarian (although the original recipe often contains a bit of pork)! I usually prefer the silken version of tofu, but for this dish the regular water-packed firm variety works best. You can use fresh mushrooms or rehydrate dry ones for 30 m in hot water – if you do the latter, save the soaking liquid for flavoring this dish and adding to soups.

ingredients:

  • 12 oz firm tofu
  • 1 T salt dissolved in 2 c water
  • 1 T tapioca flour, potato flour, or cornstarch
  • 2 T oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 6 shiitake mushrooms, stems reserved for making stock, caps cut into quarters
  • 1 T light soy sauce
  • 1/2 c water
  • 3 scallions, cut into 1.5″ sections
  • 1 tsp tapioca flour, potato flour, or cornstarch dissoved in 1 T cold water
  • sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil

method:

  1. Cut the beancurd into 1/4″ thick rectangular slices approximately 1″ x 1.5″ in size, then soak in salted water for 30 m.
  2. Drain the beancurd and pat dry, then dredge lightly in the tapioca flour.
  3. Heat 1 T oil in a wok over medium-high heat just until it shimmers, then add the beancurd, reduce heat to medium, and allow to brown on one side before flipping and browning the other side – this may need to be done in batches, depending on the size of your wok. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate.
  4. Heat the remaining 1 T oil in the wok over medium-high heat just until it shimmers, then explode the garlic just until fragrant – do not let it brown. Add the mushrooms and stirfry quickly for 15 seconds.
  5. Add the beancurd, soy sauce, and water, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for approximately 10 m, uncovered.
  6. When the liquid is down to approximately 1/4 c, add the scallions and then the thickener. Stir gently but quickly so that your sauce does not become lumpy – it should thicken and become clear in a matter of seconds, but keep simmering until the starchy taste disappears, approximately 1 m more.
  7. Adjust the seasoning, drizzle with sesame oil, and serve.

Kungpao Tofu (or Chicken or Shrimp or…)

This is another dish that probably shows up on most Chinese restaurants in America. It really is for the die-hard fire-eaters, but even they should leave the chilies on the plate and just enjoy the rest of the dish! You can substitute shrimp or chicken for the tofu and cashews for the peanuts (see the variations below).

ingredients:

  • 1 c pressed beancurd or baked  tofu (more on that here)
  • 1/4 c dried red chilies
  • 1 T oil
  • 1/2 c roasted unsalted skinless peanuts
  • 2 slices fresh ginger root, cut into thin strips
  • 3 scallions, cut into 1″ lengths

sauce:

  • 2 T light soy sauce
  • 1 T Shaoxing cooking wine or dry sherry
  • 1.5 tsp tapioca flour or cornstarch
  • 1 tsp black vinegar or apple cider or rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar, raw cane or brown is best

method:

  1. Combine the sauce ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
  2. Cut the beancurd into 1/2″ dice.
  3. Wipe the dried peppers with a damp cloth anc cut into 1/2″ sections – keep the seeds if you really love the heat, or throw them out.
  4. Heat the oil in the wok over high heat until it shimmers, the explode the chili sections, ginger, and scallions just until fragrant.
  5. Stirfry the beancurd quickly to heat thru, add the peanuts and stir to combine.
  6. Add the sauce and cook until it thickens and loses its starchy taste, approximately 1-2 m.

variations:

  • You can substitute 1 c diced chicken or shrimp for the tofu: marinate 20 m in 1/2 egg white combined with 1 tsp cornstarch and 1 tsp Shaoxing wine or dry sherry; stirfry in place of the beancurd just until cooked through.
  • Substitute roasted unsalted cashews for the peanuts.
  • You can add some bell peppers, green beans, broccoli, or other vegetable for extra color – dice and stirfry separately, then add back to the dish just before you add the sauce.