I could swear we’ve made more recipes from this book than the blog indicates, but I can’t think of what they are. Which is unfortunate, as it means I’m daydreaming cooking and recipes. Still, I suppose one could have worse daydreams than of cooking out of a generally good vegetarian cookbook.
This recipe, unsurprisingly, is the result of me poking around and trying to figure out how to best use up some CSA produce. We got broccoli for several weeks, without me having a good use for it, until we were suddenly overrun with broccoli. At that point, I didn’t want to just steam it up as a side, I wanted to make it the star of the show. And then it took another week (and another share with broccoli) for me to figure out how. So from start of winter broccoli to making this dish, I think it was about four weeks of broccoli arriving in our house. Amazingly, none of it went bad. It didn’t even yellow a bit! (Some people will use yellow broccoli, some won’t. I can’t help but see yellow broccoli and think of Amy Dacyczn of The Tightwad Gazette fame who suggested baking it into a quiche so no one would notice the yellowing. I’ve never had the courage, I have to say, but it means I know others do.) I will admit, though, that our broccoli went a little bit limp.
Anyway, in addition to needing to make broccoli the STAR, I’ve been wanting vegetarian meals for a bit. (And really vegetarian, not “vegetarian except for some small amount of delicious bacon.) Naturally, I turned to this book, and this recipe jumped out.
1 lb firm tofu
1 lb broccoli
1 – 2 tbsp peanut or canola oil (Or, you know, corn oil.)
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
3/4 tsp salt
2 scallions minced, both green and white parts
Spicy Peanut Sauce (Below)
1 c coarsely chopped peanuts, toasted (Optional; I didn’t add this.)
3/4 c good peanut butter
3/4 c hot water
6 tbsp rice or cider vinegar
3 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp blackstrap molasses
Cayenne to taste (I bet it doesn’t surprise you to read I used New Mexico red chile powder. I have a LOT of that stuff.)
Make the sauce first, so it’s ready to go when the stir-fry is nearly complete. For the sauce, combine the hot water and peanut butter in a small bowl and then mash to combine until uniform. Then whisk in the other ingredients and set aside until it’s needed.
For the stir-fry, start by cutting the tofu into 1″ cubes. Place the cubes in a medium sauce pan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, lower the heat to a simmer and simmer for about 10 minutes, then drain and set aside.
Trim the tough ends of the broccoli off, and remove any tough skin with a peeler, then cut into thin pieces and glare at the florets as they are annoying to cut.
Place a large wok or skillet over high heat. After about a minute of preheating the pan, add the oil and onion. Cook those guys for about two minutes, and then add the broccoli, ginger, garlic and salt. Stir-fry the whole mixture for about five minutes, or until the broccoli is that awesome bright green color and just starting to become tender. At this point, stir in the tofu pieces and scallions, and cook for a few more minutes. Then add the sauce and mix well so everything’s covered in delicious peanut sauce. Serve immediately, preferably over rice and sprinkled with peanuts.
Cooking and Consumption Notes
As one of those tips that almost everyone knows, except when they don’t, let me recommend a light oil coating (either cooking spray or truly just a drip of oil) on your measuring implements when measuring sticky things like molasses and peanut butter. It sure makes life a lot better.
Starting with the sauce: I didn’t cook it like this at all, and I’m glad I didn’t (though it was unintentional at first).
I used hot water out of my electric kettle, which is always near boiling, and put it and the peanut butter into a small saucepan. This is because I fully expected to be told to melt the peanut butter and blend it with the water. I was surprised to read that wasn’t the method, then rolled my eyes and did it my way. Namely, put the water and peanut butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat, whisk until smooth, then whisk in the seasonings. Taste and add more of anything (like the cayenne/red chile powder) as needed. Once it’s all whisked in, turn the heat to low and keep warm (whisking occasionally) until it’s needed.
Really, doing it that way makes it a whole lot easier to mix it up (I suspect, since I didn’t do it her way), and definitely keeps it from cooling so much that it’s hard to pour (in case you’re a slow cook, as I am).
As for the stirfry itself, I have to say I haven’t ever made tofu before this. If parcooking the stuff is required to keep the cube shape, as she suggests, I recommend doing it in veggie stock or something. Really, I just hope to find out I don’t need to do that again. It was another pot to wash, and seemed like a waste of water.
Stir-frying is basically straightforward. High heat, fairly low oil, keep your stuff moving. I recommend, despite the “low oil” part of the definition, that you 1) use the full 2 tbsp oil suggested and 2) not forget to preheat the pan before adding food to it. And, frankly, though I didn’t do this, next time I would preheat the oil in the pan and then add the onions. Adding the onions at the same time as the oil, and then the ginger, garlic and such was a mistake. The onions seemed to soak up all the oil1 and the garlic and ginger stuck and burned often. That filled me with “grrr”.
The tofu stuck too. And it held it’s shape well enough, but didn’t seem any firmer post-boil than pre-boil. I’ll skip this step next time, most likely.
Well, obviously I liked it well enough that I’m making plans for a next time, so that’s a good sign, right? I will say that it’s not a good introduction to tofu for someone who hasn’t had it but is open-minded about the idea (and terrible for someone who is dead-set against the idea). The tofu certainly retained it’s shape, for the most part, but it also had almost no flavor, and the texture in my mouth was odd. I think the texture would be fine by me IF the tofu had had any flavor. Instead what I got was oddly thick jello-feeling chunks that were peanut buttery on the outside and plain on the inside.
I’ve been told, a million times, that tofu takes on the flavor of whatever you cook it in/with. Hence my suggestion above to at least cook it in veggie stock. Give it SOMETHING to go on. Or, as a thought that I have no idea how well it would work, start with extra-firm tofu and just cook it at the same time as the broccoli, garlic and ginger. Speaking of which, you should definitely increase the amounts of the last two. This might have been because so much stuck and burned to the bottom of my pan, but it didn’t feel like there was much of either flavor.
This dish didn’t really have the feel of a weeknight dish, but it was fairly fast and stir-fry always seems like a great weeknight dish. I think the feeling of “work” came from all the dishes being produced. Between the parcooking the tofu, making the sauce and keeping it warm, making the stir-fry and cooking something to go under the stir-fry, all four burners of my stove were in use at one point. Bleh to that for a weeknight!
Cut your broccoli very thin. I did decent sized chunks (what I think of as stir-fry sized) and they were beautifully green, but not as tender as I’d have liked. Live and learn. I think even that would have been fine if the broccoli hadn’t been a touch limp going in, so instead of hiding the limpness, as this should have helped do, I emphasized it.
This dish reheats fairly well, which we found out because we had it for lunch Sunday. That’s a definite plus!
Final tip: Don’t serve this over almost done quinoa. Fully done brown rice is much better. No matter how much you think you’ve drained the quinoa (being surprised at it’s being done, despite there being water in there), there will be water left. Then your sauce will be oddly thin.
Fully done brown rice just tastes better.
1 I’m not actually sure this is possible, chemically speaking. Onions don’t really seem like tiny sponges, and I’m not sure what the chemistry is as they cook. However, either it is possible, and thus what happened, or there’s something else weird going on. Either way, I had a dearth of oil to stir-fry everything else in.