For many, tofu is an elusive ingredient to prepare at home. There are many different types and restaurant preparations are often lackluster and tasteless, leaving an impression that tofu is not worthy of a spot in the dinner rotation.
Largely used in Asian and vegetarian cooking, tofu (pressed soy bean curd) is a great source of protein, relatively low in fat and it’s pretty easy to work with if you use the correct techniques, which I’ve elaborated on in the recipe below. Tofu is indeed bland, which makes it a perfect blank culinary canvas for many styles of cuisine and flavors. Here, the tofu is prepared with a classic teriyaki sauce and paired with bok choy, another traditional Asian ingredient. I love bok choy for it’s delicate flavor, crunch and nutritional profile. One cup has more than half of the daily recommended vitamins A and C and a mere 10 calories!
One last plug for this dish --- all of the ingredients can be stocked in advance and pulled from the pantry or fridge when you’re ready to roll. Even the bok choy can be stored in the fridge for up to 5 days, wrapped in a damp paper towel and placed in a plastic bag left slightly open. (Don’t wash it until you’re ready to cook.) Just remember to drain the tofu at least one hour advance, and then leave it in the fridge until you’re ready to cook. In less than 30 minutes, dinner will be on the table. Healthier, tastier and quicker than take-out!
1 pound firm tofu, drained and sliced into eight 1-inch pieces
1 - 1½ pounds bok choy, ends trimmed, leaves rinsed of dirt, cut into wedges lengthwise (look for baby bok choy or smaller heads)
1 TB cornstarch, plus more for dredging
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup mirin
2 TB water
4 tsp fresh ginger, finely minced or grated
4 tsp garlic, minced
freshly ground pepper, to taste
6 TB sesame oil or peanut oil, for cooking
For garnish: toasted sesame seeded, chopped cilantro and wedge of lime
For serving: 1 cup cooked rice
Pat the tofu slices dry, and dredge in cornstarch or cornmeal, making sure to gently tap off the excess to avoid clumps.
Next, make the sauce: mix the soy sauce, mirin, water, ginger, garlic, pepper and 1 TB cornstarch in a small bowl and set aside. Make sure the cornstarch dissolves completely.
Place a large skillet over medium-high heat, and add 2 TB oil. When the oil is very hot but not smoking, place several pieces of tofu in the pan, adjusting the heat as necessary so tofu sizzles but does not burn. Do not overcrowd the pan and do not push the pieces around as this will keep tofu from actually searing. Let cook until the bottoms are lightly browned , about 5-6 minutes. Flip with a spatula and cook on the other side until browned, and then transfer to a plate. Add another 2 TB of oil and repeat with the remaining tofu slices.
Stir the sauce well and then pour about half into the pan. Reserve the rest for the bok choy. Bring to a boil, immediately reduce heat to simmer, and stir for a few minutes while sauce bubbles and starts to thicken slightly. Turn off the heat, then add back the tofu, toss to coat, cover and let sit until ready to serve.
In a separate large skillet, add 2 TB oil and heat on medium-high. When pan is hot, add the bok choy and the remaining sauce. Let mixture come to a boil, immediately reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook on low for about 3-4 minutes, until bok choy has wilted slightly and is cooked through. Be careful not to overcook so it doesn’t become soggy. Take the cover off, and using tongs, flip the bok choy wedges to coat them in the sauce. Cook, uncovered, for another 3-4 minutes to allow sauce to thicken slightly, then remove from the heat.
Divide the bok choy and tofu into 4 servings. If desired, garnish with toasted sesame seeds, chopped cilantro and a wedge of lime, and serve with rice.
· 1 hour or more before cooking, drain the liquid from the tofu by placing it between two paper towels. Put in a shallow dish and place a heavy pan on top to force the excess liquid out. Can be done in advance and then keep the tofu in the fridge until ready to cook.
· It is important to completely dry the tofu before cooking. Coating the tofu in the cornstarch also aids in preventing it from sticking in the pan and results in a crisp exterior texture.
· You need a hot, oil coated pan for a good sear. The best types of pan for high heat searing are a seasoned cast iron skillets or heavy stainless steel pans. It’s tempting to use a non-stick pan for obvious reasons; if you go this route, only cook on medium heat and allow more cooking time. Studies show that when non-stick pans are overheated the coating may begin to break down and toxic particles can be released.