Like many of you, I am trying to cook a little less red meat, at least on Meatless Monday. I’ve gone at it in all the ways you have –- more chicken, a few more vegetables, some dark turkey meat instead of ground beef in my meatballs -- but I’ve had to draw the line at tofu. I don’t really feel this needs a great deal of explanation, as the world is roughly divided between people who actually ponder eating vegan brownies, and, well, the rest of us.
What’s more, my husband is from Texas. And by that I don’t mean Austin. “Hey hon, would you like some tofu for dinner?” rates somewhere among queries between “What stinks in here?” and “Don’t you think our compost could use some management?”
But I was immediately drawn to this dish of Silken Comfort Tofu, which, as you can imagine, had a happy ending on my stove. First, it sounded more flavorful than many tofu dishes, by dint of the two types of onions and the addition of cilantro and basil. Its Asian influences reminded me of the places where I actually do order tofu quite often -– Korean, Chinese and Japanese restaurants. The recipe is well-written and straightforward, two essential elements for weeknight cooking.
Yes, it required a little shopping -– I didn’t have peanut oil or garlic chili sauce on hand -– but for me that just created an excuse to head to the Asian grocery store on Sawtelle in West Los Angeles, where ladies in smocks are always ladling out free soup on Sundays.
Once you’ve got your ingredients together, put on your basmati rice so you are not frantically considering a side as you get toward the end of this recipe, because it’s going to be fast. Once you’ve got some garlic, scallions and a few other goodies chopped up, you are moving through the steps quickly; think circuit training, not yoga. You are essentially layering dabs of liquid on some form of onion for short periods of time, then tossing in the tofu at the end. You simmer, you stir, you add stuff and simmer more and before you know it, 17 minutes have gone by and you are asking aloud why someone hasn’t bothered to set the table and why do you have to do everything around here and could someone pour mom a beer.
Please don’t be discouraged if you don’t have all the ingredients exactly as written here; I do not sense that Abra Bennett is here to judge you. For instance, I could only find regular peanut oil, not the Chinese version, though I trust the author that the dish would be that much better had I had some. If commercial peanut butter is all you have on hand, no worries. If you forget to chiffonade that basil -- a cutting technique that basically involves chopping stuff in strips -- and your basil in fact is from the farmer’s market and not Thai basil at all, I promise you this dish is going to be delicious anyway.
It has this whole lovely peanut smoothness, with a nice fiery kick (if you have someone at your table who does not care for heat, go easy on the chili oil) and a very satisfying heartiness that tofu often fails to deliver. I would like to try this dish with firm tofu to see how it would differ. It would not be silken, and so perhaps that would amount to recipe headline fraud, but the silken stuff falls apart very easily, making it scrambled-egg like.
But that does not take away from my enjoyment of this dish in any way. In fact, between its speediness, comfort-factor and sheer layers of deliciousness, this may be one of the best new week-night recipes I have tried in months. Even my husband liked it. Not that I offered him another choice. But he did helpfully point out that this dish was “a whole lot better than the time you tried to caramelize tofu,” and said he would like some again next week. Now that I’ve got the peanut oil, we shall have it.
by Abra Bennett
Serves 2, as a main course
- 1 tablespoon peanut oil, Chinese if possible
- 2 shallots, sliced thin
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 teaspoon Chinese chili-garlic sauce
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon natural peanut butter
- 1/4 cup hot water
- 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
- 1 pound silken tofu, cubed
- 4 green onions, sliced
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
- 1/4 cup basil chiffonade, use Thai basil if possible
- chili oil for drizzling
1. Heat the peanut oil in a large skillet and saute shallots until golden. Add sliced garlic and sizzle briefly. Add chili-garlic sauce and fry until fragrant. Add fish sauce and sizzle until nearly evaporated. Stir in peanut butter, so mixture forms a rough paste. Whisk in hot water (and sugar, if using) - the consistency of the mixture should be between a thick sauce and a loose paste.
2. Gently stir in the tofu, trying to keep cubes intact as much as possible, Stir in green onions, cilantro, and basil and heat through. Drizzle with chili oil and serve with brown or basmati rice.