Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Dining with the Bloggers - February 23rd.

This week, I jumped to it and proposed an Asian theme to Cathy. Like I explained in last weeks Dining with the Bloggers, my kitchen cupboards are filled to the point of bursting with stuff that I buy on a whim - so in there is (also) lot of Asian stuff. I actually enjoy Asian food a lot, but usually only eat it when I'm out - Boyfriend is not so enthusiastic about it, so I really shouldn't torture him, should I?

There are so many Asian bloggers out there - Santos has very conveniently done a little list here, that I only discovered when Cathy pointed me there, and after having searched high and low in all sorts of blogger archives! So much for being and organized dinner planner, but what the heck! I actually thought it would be quite easy to find something I'd like to do, even though I did have some criterias to be meet - I just have to restrict myself, I don't know why! Anyways -I always fall for anything sweet - Rachel's Fuwa Fuwa Soy Milk Cakey sounded like something I'd like. This is - well, maybe not a real problem, considering, but still - I'm just more prone to make a cake, than something savory! Is it my sweet tooth?

So savory it should be, just to make it hard, and preferably something that would use up some of the funny stuff in the cupboard.

And there it was. In Chika of She Who Eats' archive, I found this one: Otsu na Soba. The recipe is actually one that Chika got from Heidi at 101 cookbooks, but I figured I found it through Chika, so I could consider it Asian. The ingredients are indeed Asian: Buckwheat noodles (had those) in a dressing with lots of ginger (had to buy), lemon, cayenne, rice vinegar (on the shelf) sesame oil (on the shelf too) soy sauce (of course), then mixed with coriander/cilantro, cucumber and scallion/spring onion - it even said it'd be great for lunch and with me going back to school, how could it fit any better?! I could cook, and be feed for TWO meals!

But wait. It also had tofu. TOFU?? I know, I know, I claim to be a vegetarian - but I've never actually cooked the stuff myself. And ahem - these are the results:



So you see - there's a reason I've never cooked tofu before. Ahem. Any tips, hints or good ideas are very welcome! I still have three blocks left I need to use...

But as for the salad - it was nothing short of DIVINE! Just that sort of punchy spice I like - I'm not one for throat-burning spicy, but I like a little. It was even very easy and took no time at all to do. On Chika's suggestion, I used less soy sauce and also a quarter teaspoon less cayenne, just because I'm so inclined. I didn't add any of the extra vegetables Chika did, mostly because well, I couldn't come by the exact same here anyways, so I thought I might as well leave well enough alone. It's not a bad idea though, and I might try it sometime soon. Both Chika and Heidi said they have leftover dressing - I might be a dressing hound, but there was only a little left in my jar.

Oh, and as for the leftovers for lunch next day - YUM! I packed the sesame seeds to sprinkle on top separate, and had no tofu in the lunch batch - it was still darn good! The dressing mellows a little, but still hits the spot. This is a definite keeper!

Cathy's been doing soy milk from scratch as one of her things this week - and I might have to follow in her footsteps soon...

9 comments:

Clem said...

About the tofu. As a long time vegan, I se it for many things. My guess is that you got "soft" or "regular" tofu or possibly japanese style silken tofu - the kind that comes in boxes. For most savory cooking you want extra-firm or at least firm tofu. THe others will work, but they tend to break down. To use the softer ones, you can whiz them with fruits to make smoothies or use them with suitable flavorings to stuff things. I like to whiz soft tofu with a vegan basil-mint pesto and stuff pasta shells or tubes with it. I then add tomato sauce and and a topping of chopped olives, peppers, garlic, onions etc., a sprinkling, perhaps of bread crumbs, and bake it. You can also use soft tofu for cream pie fillings, mix it with lemon juice or vinegar and a bit of garlic powder to make a vegan aioli, or mix it with nutritional yeast to make a ricotta substitute for lasagna. You can also consider it as the base for a relleno stuffing. For firm tofu, it makes a quick and easy scramble. I add a bit of turmeric for color, a bit of soy sauce, chili powder, peppers, onions, garlic, ginger, mushrooms, and/or whatever else looks good in my fridge or spice drawer. A good rule of thumb too, is that just about any chicken recipe translates well with firm tofu instead of the bird. For such uses, it is often good to press the tofu first. Wrap it in several layers of towels, put it on a draining mat, and lay a plate on top of it with a heavy can atop for 15 minutes or half an hour. You can then marinate it with any favorite homemade or commercial marinade. You can change the texture of tofu, making it chewier and more durable and "meaty", by freezing it then thawing and pressing it. Some find the resulting texture to be too much like a sponge, others love it. After pressing and/or freezing and possible marinating (zqueeze it again carefully between two plates after marinating to remove excess liquid), you can then fry it or grill it, possibly breading it first. Grilled tofu can be a real treat. One presentation I like is a tofu version of a hawaiian style chicken dish. The breaded marinated tofu cutlets are lightly fried then baked in a sauce of pineapple chunks and juice, green pepper strips, onion and ginger. If you don't want to take time with pressing and the like, a savory stew of largish chunks of tofu, potatoes, carrots, and whatever other vegetables you like, possibly with the hard seitan (wheat gluten) disks you can find at Chinese stores, in vegetable broth and seasoned with bay leaf, sage and garlic, thickened with flour, cornstarch, arrowroot file powder, roux or whatever you prefer is substantial and fillig on winter days. Start the seitan, if using, first, then the veggies and add the tofu last.

Karen said...

Hi, I've been following your and Cathy's Dining with the Bloggers but it's my first time to comment here. I agree with Clem that you may have gotten the soft kind of tofu, we call that tokwa (or tau qua). Tofu is supposedly of a higher quality, hence, firmer. But even softer soy bean curd can be fried successfully. The keywords are: don't move them too much. :-)

I may have something for you in my archives: Stir-Fried Vegetables with Tofu.

Stephanie said...

Did you press the tofu, first? Whenever we use it (stir fry, fried rice), we wrap the block of tofu in paper towels and put some sort of weight on it (the flour cannister usually works); you really want the moisture out.
And crisping the tofu in a bit of oil helps, too...you get a nice, firm texture.

I just commented on Cathy's blog that my cooking club blog has picked Asian for next month's theme, as well!

http://gettingfattogether.blogspot.com

Zarah Maria said...

Thanks guys! This is really helpful - I'd never thought of pressing the tofu first to get rid of the water! I'm pretty sure what I have is, well, why don't I just call it the firmest tofu I could lay my hands on at the time. I did tell the nice lady at the shop, who's always very helpful, that I wanted tofu I could fry, and she pointed me to three different brands and said I could just choose any of those. That said, it almost fell apart when I took it out of the plastic container and certainly didn't feel very firm! I'm gonna try drying it out when cooking it tomorrow!

Clem - your suggestions sound wonderful! It will definetly get me started on cooking with tofu, my mouth is watering just reading them! Thank you so much! I might freeze one of the blocks, I don't mind me some "sponge";-)!

Karen - took a look at the recipe and it sounds scrumptious - if this batch of tofu don't go into it, the next one certainly will! Thanks! I tried not touching the cubes too much (the recipe said so too), but then all of a sudden they started getting really dark and I panicked and started scraping and pushing! Ouh! It's hard learning new things - but I'm not gonna give up!

Stephanie - See, the oil thing would be my usual trick too, but the recipe said to start off in a dry pan, then when all the water had evaporated to add the oil. And knowing no better - hey, I have never done tofu before! - that's what I did. They will not fool me again!
Love the name of your cooking club!

babe_kl said...

Hi Zarah,
This is my first comment in yr blog even though I've been reading it. There are various types of tofu. You can check them out here

http://www.makantime.com/ingredientguide/beancurd.htm

Barbara Fisher said...

Zarah--tofu takes practice to cook.

Pressing tofu to remove excess moisture helps, or you can buy already pressed tofu--in Asian stores it is called "Spiced dry tofu"--I have a recent entry about it on my blog. That one you can take out of the package, slice up and use in stir fry dishes as is, without worrying about it breaking apart.

I also have an entry on Ma Po Tofu--that is a braised Sichuan Chinese dish of tofu. The classic recipe includes minced pork or beef, but you can leave that out and just make the tofu and the braising liquid and that is a damned fine and tasty spicy dish for wintertime. In making that dish, because it is braised, you don't have to press the liquid out of the tofu, you just have to stir carefully so it doesn't break up.

When I make hot and sour soup, I use firm Japanese silken tofu in it, cut into shreds to match the bamboo shoots and cloud ear mushrooms. I stir carefully and the tofu doesn't break up, and the silken texture is just a divine contrast to the crunchy bamboo shoots and cloud ear.

An old Chinese trick that they used in the winter was to leave the tofu outside to freeze before cooking it. This gives it a spongy texture that soaks up braising liquid readily. Of course, now that everyone has freezers, you can do this any time.

Or you can deep fry it, and use the fried puffs in stir fries. This is yet another texture possiblity which gives tofu even more versatility.

Anyway, don't feel bad. My first attempt to cook tofu in a wok looked worse than yours, but now, I cook it pretty often too great effect in Asian dishes and it is easy once you get the hang of it.

Good luck, and if you have a specific question about tofu, you can always ask on my blog. I don't bite--well, not people anyway. I can't promise about not biting tofu.

Mads said...

I've only ever tried one tofu recipe, but it worked out tasty and simple enough to not really bother about finding any others.
Get a block of tofu (the hard solid kind) and cut it into slices sligthly less than 1cm thick. Coat in a bit of wheat flour and fry in a bit of oil until golden brown on both sides. Now brush with teriyaki sauce (homemade of course), sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake in the oven for 15 - 20 minutes at 200C.
This recipe should give enough taste and texture make most "carnivores" wonder wether they're eating chicken or not ;)

Pille said...

Zarah Maria - har du stadigvaek en opskrift for otsu-saladen? Jeg ville gerne ha' det, hvis muligt:)

Becky and the Beanstock said...

All of these comments are incredibly useful to me. I'm a vegetarian and dabbling in veganism, and I also happen to love tofu. But it always tastes SO much better in Asian restaurants, even when I press it first (I have trouble pressing enough liquid out -- not sure why). So these tips and links will give me fodder for my next attempts. Thanks!

Save Our Plants: Eat Them!
http://beckyandthebeanstock.com/