Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Spicy Tofu Stir-Fry

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We're on some sort of weird Chinese food streak. I like it, but I often feel that I'm not very good at cooking Chinese food. Whenever I feel stuck about what to cook or how to cook something, I draw inspiration from memorable restaurant dishes or what I've seen my mom and grandma do in the kitchen. This dish is inspired by a similar dish we had at Spices, but the technique comes from years of observing Chinese food being prepared.
  • 1 block of firm tofu, drained cut into small cubes
  • 1 red or green bell pepper, sliced into strips
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, diced small
  • 2 scallions, sliced diagonally
  • 1 cup of tapioca powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt, divided
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of vegetarian oyster sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon of five-spice powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cups plus 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil, divided
Add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to a large skillet or wok. Turn heat to high. Saute onion, bell pepper and jalapeno pepper together until the vegetables begin to soften, about 2 to 5 minutes. Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt, soy sauce, vegetarian oyster sauce, five-spice powder, brown sugar, and balsamic vinegar. Continue to saute until vegetables are soft. Set aside.

Mix together tapioca powder, baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Blot tofu cubes with paper towel to remove moisture. Dredge tofu cubes in the mixture until evenly coated. Heat up 2 cups of vegetable oil in a small skillet. Fry coated tofu cubes in batches. Turn tofu pieces to make sure all sides are evenly fried. Set fried tofu on top of paper towels so excess oil can be removed. Add fried tofu to stir-fried vegetables. Toss together. Add sliced scallion pieces as garnish. Serve over some white rice.

We also had some garlic stir-fried greens on the side. Somewhat insulting to post a recipe for something like that. But here's a picture.

I think the most surprising ingredient in the spicy stir-fry tofu dish is balsamic vinegar. I felt the sauce needed a little acid so I grabbed whatever was the closest to me. Balsamic vinegar actually adds a little more sweetness to the spicy dish. Except the subtle sweetness, it is not really noticeable in the final product. The dish is spicy, sweet, well-balanced in flavors and has nice contrasting textures. Of course not up to the quality of the dish we had at Spices, but it is quite good for a first attempt especially given my aversion to frying. Next time, I would add some Szechuan peppercorns and more jalapeno peppers for even more heat.

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