Dining out, for me at least, means ordering something on the menu I can’t reproduce in my own kitchen. The more I cook and bake, if in part, perhaps to keep on providing you with fresh ideas for your own table, means the list of dishes I’ll eat out grows smaller. Good for my wallet, especially with the exorbitant cost of childcare. (Seriously, you’d pass out if I told you what we spent in 2016 for our two precious girls.) There are some dishes I just can’t nail – baingan bharta, for example, is one that I will always order in a restaurant because I just can’t do it in my own kitchen. Hummus, too, I just can’t get right, although I recently heard a tip I need to try: run the food processor an extra 2 minutes, to help aerate it. We’ll see if that helps.
Chinese food is another that tends to taste better from a restaurant. But I had good luck with this Sweet and Sour Tofu-Vegetable Stir-Fry. It’s from Everyday Vegetarian: A Delicious Guide for Creating More Than 150 Meatless Dishes from the editors of Cooking Light. This recipe is exactly what you would have at the restaurant. Seriously, it’s spot-on. I’m an admitted broccoli junkie, and I freely admit to making this twice in a 4-day period. Rich, who would never willingly order tofu or request it of his own choosing, gladly ate this dish.
One of the nice features of cookbooks from magazines, like this one, is that there’s a full cadre of writers and cooks to test recipes. This cookbook has been more thoroughly vetted than the current president’s cabinet members. There are eight sections in the cookbook, plus an opening on the “Everyday Vegetarian Kitchen.” I’m looking forward to trying many of the recipes here, including Lemony Zucchini Pitas with Quick Pickled Dill Carrots and Spinach and Feta Quiche with Quinoa Crust. I have a feeling they will be as spot-on as the stir-fry.
This week’s recipe was one of the recipes I’d accumulated during my broken computer hiatus and set aside until it was in season. Now that broccoli has arrived in this week’s CSA haul, I’m so so happy to share this one with you now.
Maybe also because it’s from a mainstream publication, they often “suggest” using ingredients like Uncle Ben’s in the Warm Brown Rice and Chickpea with Cherries and Goat Cheese, or Swanson’s when stock is needed. As I get older, short cuts in the kitchen like that make more and more sense to me, but I’ll leave what brands to use to your best judgement.
I made quite a few substitutions of my own. I never have dry sherry in the house, so I used sherry vinegar, which was a perfect substitute. I didn’t have fresh hot pepper in the house and used a pinch of red pepper flakes instead. Although the recipe calls for Broccolini, I used broccoli florets. I also skipped the carrots. I can’t stand cast-iron and never used my wok so I didn’t pack it when we moved, so I used a non-stick skillet. Yes, I am aware I spent time talking about how spot on this recipe is, then followed up by talking about the alterations I made to it. But I know the little tweaks I made wouldn’t change the flavors or texture of the recipe. And that’s what cooking is all about. It’s trickier to do that with baking, though.
Although the header notes say, This dish is mildly spicy; to make it extra kid-friendly, omit the chile from the sweet and sour sauce.” Beatrix, who at least tasted it because it was broccoli, something she will still eat, announced it was “too spicy,” and spat it out. Her loss, because this dish is fantastic.
Sweet and Sour Tofu-Vegetable Stir-Fry from Everyday Vegetarian: A Delicious Guide for Creating More Than 150 Meatless Dishes By the Editors of Cooking Light
1 (14-ounce) package water-packed extra-firm tofu, drained
3/4 cup water
1/3 cup rice vinegar
2 Tablespoons sugar
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tablespoons dry sherry (I used sherry vinegar, which was a perfect substitute.)
2 Tablespoons ketchup
2 Tablespoons finely chopped red hot chile (with seeds), such as red jalapeno or Thai chile (I used a pinch of red pepper flakes instead.)
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 ½ Tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce
2 Tablespoons canola oil
½ teaspoon salt
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices
2 carrots, diagonally cut into 1/8-inch thick slices
1 (8-ounce) bunch Broccolini, cut into florets and stems cut into ½-inch pieces (I used broccoli florets.)
2 cups cooked brown rice
Place the tofu in a shallow dish. Place the paper towels on top, and weight with a cast-iron skillet or other heavy pan. Let stand 20 minutes, pressing down occasionally. Discard the liquid, and cut the tofu into 2 x ¼-inch pieces.
While the tofu stands, combine ½ cup of the water, vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Stir half of the garlic into the sugar mixture. Stir in the sherry, ketchup, and chile. Cook the mixture over medium heat until boiling. Remove from the heat; stir in the cornstarch, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Stir in the soy sauce.
Heat a large cast iron skillet or wok over high heat. (I used a non-stick skillet.)
Add 1 Tablespoon of the oil swirl to coat. Add the tofu in an even layer; cook, without stirring, 2 minutes. Turn the tofu; cook 2 minutes. Place on a plate; sprinkle with the salt.
Add 1 teaspoon of the oil to the pan; swirl to coat. Add the bell pepper; stir-fry 2 minutes. Add the remaining garlic; stir-fry 10 to 20 seconds. Remove to the plate with the tofu. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons oil to the pan; swirl to coat. Add the carrots; stir-fry 1 minute. Add the Broccolini; stir-fry 3 minutes or until the water evaporates. Return the tofu mixture to the pan. Add the sauce mixture; stir to coat. Place the rice on each of 4 plates. Place the tofu mixture over the rice.