Se­cret to great tofu is in the press­ing

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FOOD - By Sara Moul­ton

My mom started trav­el­ing abroad when I was in high school. And after each of her trips, we cooked a meal from the coun­try she’d just vis­ited.

It was after her trip to Italy that I be­came a huge fan of veal. Veal, of course, is no­to­ri­ously bland, so what’s the ap­peal? I love it be­cause it func­tions mostly as a firm land­ing strip for the de­li­cious sauce of your choice, and I’m a nut for sauces. Re­cently, I fig­ured out that tofu plays the same role for veg­e­tar­i­ans as veal does for car­ni­vores.

Made from soy­beans, wa­ter and a co­ag­u­lant, tofu is no­tably healthy — low in calo­ries, de­void of sat­u­rated fat and a great source of pro­tein, cal­cium and iron. But there’s the lit­tle mat­ter of tofu’s flabby tex­ture and its fla­vor (or lack thereof), which is why I’ve al­ways shied away from the stuff.

It turns out, though, that prop­erly pre­pared tofu is a great sponge for fla­vor, a nat­u­ral fact ex­ploited to good ef­fect in this light en­tree for the new year.

The first step is to lose the ex­cess wa­ter in tofu, which will — Duh! — wa­ter down your dish. So you force out the ex­cess wa­ter by putting a weighted plate on top of the tofu and let it press and drain for about 30 min­utes. The tofu be­comes firmer and less wa­tery the longer you press it. This also en­sures that when you cook it, the tofu will have a springy tex­ture and a crispy ex­te­rior.

The crispy slices of tofu are a won­der­ful foil for this recipe’s in­tense chil­io­r­ange sauce. The sauce is com­ple­mented with broc­coli and red pep­per. Serve it on brown rice and you’re look­ing at a one-dish meal, light but fill­ing. My hus­band, a die-hard car­ni­vore, had no idea that this was a healthy veg­e­tar­ian dish. He just scarfed it down and said thank you.

Sauteed tofu with broc­coli and red pep­pers in chili-or­ange sauce

Start to fin­ish: 1 hour 15 min­utes

Servings: 4

14-ounce pack­age ex­tra-firm wa­ter-packed tofu

1⁄4 cup fresh or­ange juice

1⁄4 cup wa­ter

2 ta­ble­spoons hoisin

1 ta­ble­spoon soy sauce

2 ta­ble­spoons chili-gar­lic sauce

1 ta­ble­spoon corn­starch

1⁄2 tea­spoon sesame oil

4 ta­ble­spoons veg­etable oil, di­vided

1 red bell pep­per, cored and cut into thin strips

6 cups medium broc­coli flo­rets, blanched un­til crisp­ten­der, then drained

2 tea­spoons minced fresh ginger

2 tea­spoons minced gar­lic

Brown rice, cooked, to serve Toasted cashews, to gar­nish

Cut the block of tofu in half hor­i­zon­tally to cre­ate 2 thick slabs. Wrap each slab in a clean kitchen towel and place on a plate. Place a sec­ond plate on top of the tofu, then weigh it down with sev­eral heavy cans. Press in this man­ner for 30 min­utes to drain wa­ter from the tofu and firm it up. Un­wrap the tofu and cut each slab into ½-inch pieces. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk to­gether the or­ange juice, wa­ter, hoisin, soy sauce, chili-gar­lic sauce, corn­starch and sesame oil. Set aside.

In a large non­stick or stick-re­sis­tant skil­let over medium-high, heat 1 ½ ta­ble­spoons of the veg­etable oil. Add half of the tofu pieces, sprin­kle with salt, then cook, stir­ring oc­ca­sion­ally, un­til golden brown on all sides, 8 to 10 min­utes. Use a slot­ted spoon to trans­fer the tofu to a medium bowl. Re­peat with an­other 1 ½ ta­ble­spoons of oil and the re­main­ing tofu.

Re­turn the skil­let to the heat and add the re­main­ing 1 ta­ble­spoon of oil. Add the red pep­per and cook, stir­ring, un­til it is al­most ten­der, about 3 min­utes. Add the broc­coli and cook for 2 min­utes. Add the ginger and gar­lic and cook, stir­ring, for 1 minute. Whisk the sauce in the bowl to make cer­tain the corn­starch is dis­solved, then add to the skil­let, whisk­ing. Bring to a boil to thicken, then add the tofu and cook just un­til heated through.

Ar­range a mound of rice on each of 4 serv­ing plates, then top with the tofu mix­ture and cashews.

Nu­tri­tion in­for­ma­tion per serv­ing: 490 calo­ries; 230 calo­ries from fat (47 per­cent of to­tal calo­ries); 26 g fat (3 g sat­u­rated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg choles­terol; 49 g car­bo­hy­drate; 8 g fiber; 8 g sugar; 18 g pro­tein; 580 mg sodium.

Sara Moul­ton is host of pub­lic tele­vi­sion’s “Sara’s Week­night Meals.” She was ex­ec­u­tive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years and spent a decade host­ing sev­eral Food Net­work shows, in­clud­ing “Cook­ing Live.” Her lat­est cook­book is “Home Cook­ing 101.”


This photo shows sauteed tofu with broc­coli and red pep­pers in chili-or­ange sauce in Con­cord, N.H. This dish is from a recipe by Sara Moul­ton.

This photo shows tofu to be sauteed with broc­coli and red pep­pers in chili-or­ange sauce in Con­cord, N.H. This dish is from a recipe by Sara Moul­ton.

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