Oswald Rivera

Author, Warrior, and Teacher

Category: tofu

TOFU WITH BEANS

I like tofu and I like beans. So, in the following recipe, I’ve combined the two. Most of us are familiar with pasts fazool,  or pasta fagioli, which combines beans and pasta, usually small shells, ditalini or even orzo. I guess this would be tofu fazool or tofu fagioli. In my old neighborhood we’d probably call it Tofu con Habichuelas. Whatever. It’s simple to make and utterly delicious.

I don’t usually use canned beans. The flavor just does not compare to beans conjured up from scratch. I acknowledge that it’s easy just to open the can and use. However, if you’re a purist like me, dried beans (in this case, black beans) are best. But you can use whatever bean type preferred.

For dried beans, here’s the drill: Place 2 cups beans in a colander, and rinse under cold running water; place in a kettle or pot  with water to cover by at least 2 inches (do not use hot water); let it soak in the fridge, ideally, overnight; put in a heavy pot or kettle with water to cover, again  by about 1 inch, bring to boil; cover and cook over moderate-low heat until beans are tender (about 1 hour). Note that, during cooking, if water is absorbed or water level runs low, you can add more water, Then cook as you would in the recipe given. Again, if you want to use canned beans, more power to you.

The other thing,  when cooking tofu is it should be pressed prior to cooking. This a technique used to remove moisture and make it easier to cook Normally, even with extra firm tofu, if it is too wet it can break up during cooking. Also, unpressed tofu will not absorb flavor as well, and will not have a good texture. To press: Wrap tofu in a few layers of paper towels; place a cast iron or similarly heavy pan on top, balancing it so that it stays level; wait about 30 minutes and you’ll get at least ¼ cup to ½ cup excess liquid that you’ll discard; remove weighted object; unwrap tofu and cook as instructed.

This time around, I serve this dish with tostones (fried green plantains); but you can serve it with rice or other grain (like quinoa or couscous).

Ingredients:

Cooked beans, as instructed above, or 2 (15.5) oz. cans black beans
2 tablespoons tomato paste
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
Salt  and ground black pepper to taste
1 (14 oz.) package extra firm tofu, pressed

Instructions:

  1. Place beans in  a heavy-duty pot or large skillet. Add tomato paste and cook over moderate-high heat, stirring, until paste has dissolved and is on longer in clumps, about 4-5 minutes. Add rest of ingredients, stir and cook, covered, over  medium heat for 10 minutes.
  2.  Stir in tofu, cook another 2 minutes and serve.
    Yield: r servings.

MAX’S TOFU

I’m always on the lookout for a good tofu dish. This one is from Max, an old friend of ours. He, like I, is a fan of tofu, and this is his go-to recipe. What’s interesting about it is that it calls for nutritional yeast. When I prepare tofu I either dredge it in seasoned flour or breading. Nutritional yeast is new to me. I imagine it makes for a healthy repast. The rest of the ingredients are common to any tofu rendition. It’s a quick easy meal that goes great with rice,  or any favorite grain.

Max’s version calls for the tofu to be pressed, a common preparation among tofu aficionados. This is done to remove the moisture content so that the tofu will hold its shape when frying or grilling. It’s an easy enough procedure: Place a block of tofu in layers of paper towels folded in half or quarters; place a weight, like large can or heavy skillet on top of the tofu; let it sit for at least 30 minutes—until paper towels stop absorbing moisture; slice tofu into strips or cubes and cook as directed. The dish yields four servings.

MAX’S TOFU

1 block tofu (firm or extra-firm, pressed)
4 tablespoons nutritional yeast
2 teaspoons garlic powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

Coat tofu in dry ingredients and panfry in oil, turning until browned all over.

 

SIMMERED TOFU OR TEMPEH

From time to time I cook tofu, or tempeh, as the case may be. Like everyone else, I found that Tofu (or tempeh) takes on the flavor of whatever seasoning is being used. That’s the great thing about it: it’s versatility.

This recipe is fairly straightforward, it’s basically tofu or tempeh braised in a soy sauce, vinegar, tomato paste and mustard combination. It’s delicious hot over rice or toast, and it’s great for sandwiches too. If you’re using tempeh, it needs a longer time to simmer to absorb the flavors, so use extra liquid in the sauce.

SIMMERED TOFU OR TEMPEH

Ingredients:

1 pound tempeh or firm tofu
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1½ to cups water or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons vinegar
¼ cup tomato paste
¼ teaspoon dry mustard
Pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. If using tofu, rinse and chop into 1-inch cubes. If using tempeh, rinse and slice into bars about ¼-inch thick and 2 inches wide.
  2.  Heat oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until golden.  Stir in water or broth (use 1½ cups for tofu, 2 cups for tempeh), soy sauce, vinegar, tomato paste, mustard and pepper. Bring to a boil. Arrange tofu or tempeh in the pan or wok. Spoon the sauce over the cubes or slices, making sure they are covered.
  3.  If you’re serving the dish hot, cover and simmer about 20 minutes for tofu, ½ hour or longer for tempeh. If you want to use the cubes and slices for sandwiches, cook uncovered over low heat until the sauce is evaporated and absorbed, making a glaze over the cubes or slices. Keep an eye out to prevent sticking and burning.
    Yield: 4
    Note: For a more seasoned taste, add a clove of minced garlic and a pinch of cayenne to the onion when sautéing, and a tablespoon of chopped fresh ginger near the end of the sautéing.

 

 

SESAME TOFU

I’m always on the lookout for good tofu recipes. Tofu, or bean curd, is something that I discovered in my young manhood. And I’ve been  a fan ever since. To me, Tofu by itself is tasteless. Yet the beauty of it is that it acquires the flavor of whatever seasoning you use. This is its crowning glory. And the recipe given below exemplifies that. It’s nothing less, or more, than tofu marinated in soy sauce and herbs and, then, for that added touch, sesame is added to the mix. You can’t go wrong with this one. Serve over steamed rice or noddles, this is a winner, In this case, I served the marinated tofu over Japanese green tea noodles, And it was delicious. It makes for a great vegetarian dinner. And even if you’re not a vegetarian, you’ll appreciate the mix of flavors this dish brings up.

Let me add that the Japanese green noodles I find in the stores come in  a 22.57 ounce package. If you can find a 12.8-ounce package then you’re set. Otherwise use half of the 22.57 ounce package for a dinner for four.

SESAME TOFU

Ingredients:

1 pound package (14-ounce) of extra firm tofu, cut into ¾-inch cubes
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and mince
1 tablespoon ginger root, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup sesame seeds
2 tablespoons peanut oil

Instructions:

  1. In a medium bowl, combine tofu, soy sauce, garlic, ginger root and sugar. Stir to mix. Marinate or 2 hours.
  2.  Remove tofu from marinade and roll in sesame seeds.
  3.  In a wok or fry pan, heat peanut oil on medium heat. Add tofu along with marinade and cook tofu for 4 minutes.
  4.  Serve over steamed rice or noodles.
    Yield: 4 servings.

 

KASHMIR SPINACH WITH TOFU

I am a fan of Indian cuisine, especially  for its vegetarian content. One of my favorite recipes is Kashmir Spinach with Paneer. Kashmir is in northwestern India and spinach, or palak as it is called in Hindi, is very popular in the region. Mixing palak with paneer, a fresh cheese popular throughout South Asia, is very common. In fact, in Kashmir the dish is known as palak paneer. In every case, the paneer is deep-fried and served with the spinach

But what if you don’t have any paneer cheese on hand? So, improvisation is in order. Why not use tofu instead? To my surprise, the dish works very well with beancurd. It is just as tasty, and healthy. As with the original, we serve it over rice, and it makes for a great vegetarian dinner. The spices present in the dish are perfect in livening up the neutral tofu flavor. No other enhancement is required.

Let me add that this recipe is spicy. You can use just one green chili or skip it altogether. You can make it as hot or as mild as desired. Either way, enjoy.

KASHMIR SPINACH WITH TOFU

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons cumin powder
¼-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and mince
2 teaspoons turmeric powder
4-5 cardamom pod
½ teaspoon garam masala
2 tablespoons fennel seed powder
3 Serrano chilies, slit along their length
1 14-ounce package extra firm tofu, rinsed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Salt to taste.
1 pound fresh spinach leaves, washed and cut into ribbons
¾ teaspoon cornstarch, made into a slurry with a few tablespoons of water

Instructions:

1. Heat oil in a wok or pan on medium-high flame. When it simmers, add cumin, ginger, turmeric, cardamom,  garam masala, 1 teaspoon of fennel seed powder, and green chilies. Toss mixture with oil.
2. Add tofu and stir the mixture until the beancurd is covered with spices and oil. Add salt to taste.
3. Add about 1 ½ cups water to pan. Gently mix, cover and bring to a boil.
4. Lower heat to simmer. Uncover, and sprinkle over the remainder of the fennel seed powder. Stir in the spinach. Add cornstarch and stir to mix.
5. Cover and simmer for another 4-5 minutes, until spinach is wilted. Serve with steamed rice.
Yield: 4-6 servings.

 

 

 

 

Broiled Tofu

I didn’t come across tofu, or bean curd, as an edible until my young manhood. It was sometime back in 1970, when I had just returned from Vietnam that I came across this product that had been a staple of Asian cooking for centuries. We never had such a thing when I was growing up in Spanish Harlem. When I first tasted it, at the behest of some adventurous vegetarian friends, I was, to be honest, underwhelmed. The thing had no flavor. But then I discovered that, ironically, that was the beauty of it: tofu can acquired whatever flavor you give it, whether cooked or not. In my bachelor days I had a lady friend whose signature dish was plain tofu, cubed, seasoned with salt and pepper, drizzle with a little soy sauce, and served over rice or whatever grain was available. That such a simple dish could be heavenly, was new to me. Over the ensuing years, tofu has become a national rage, and tofu cookbooks abound, all celebrating its health benefits.

I’m not that much concerned about its health aspects, so much as its flavor profile. As noted, stir-fried, sauteed, boiled or baked, bean curd will take on whatever flavor designation you desire. You can make it mild to the taste, or more spicy as in a previous post in which I rendered Fried Tofu with Sichuan Peppercorn Sauce (05/14/14).  The recipe given does not incorporate hot peppercorns of any type. It’s just a simple preparation of broiled tofu with whatever spices you have on hand. Served over steamed white rice (or brown rice, if you must), and nothing could be tastier or better for you.

BROILED TOFU

14 ounces firm or extra firm tofu
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon olive oil or vegetable oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh chopped oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon rice vinegar (can substitute white vinegar)

1. Rinse tofu under running water and pat dry with paper towels. Slice into 1-inch cubes. The  best way to do this is to slice the tofu into 1-inch rectangles, then  slice rectangles into cubes.
2. Heat broiler on high and arrange a rack in top third of oven.
2. Whisk the soy sauce, olive oil, pinch pf pepper, oregano and garlic powder in a medium shallow bowl. Dip the tofu  pieces in the soy sauce mixture to coat (let the excess sauce drip back into the bowl). Then lay the pieces on a baking sheet, or place in a baking pan (for this I always use my trusted cast-iron pan). Set the remaining sauce aside.
3. Broil the tofu until browned, about 10-15 minutes, turning the tofu every 5 minutes to brown on all sides, and remove from oven.
4. Add the scallions, vinegar and sesame oil to the reserved sauce and toss to coat. Serve with steamed rice.
    Yield: 4 servings.     

Fried Tofu with Sichuan Peppercorn

One of my favorite cuisines is Asian, in all its variations. This began years ago when the family lived in Spanish Harlem. We would trek down to the Hong Fat restaurant in Chinatown. Anybody recall Hong Fat’s? It was on Mott Street for over 30 years. Now it’s long since gone. But those memorable Friday night meals remain with me. It was American-Chinese cooking; and It wasn’t till my palate expanded that I discovered the joys of genuine Chinese cuisine in all its glory (and not just bland Cantonese fare). I also discovered other Asian cooking: Thai, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, etc. Today I experiment with them all.

Along the way I came across Tofu, or bean curd. I’ve been an aficionado of it ever since. The recipe given below is simple friend tofu with a chili-Sichuan peppercorn mix. Sichuan is a style of Chinese cooking noted for its emphasis on spice, specifically peppercorn. You can find Sichuan peppercorn in any Asian market. The recipe also calls for gochu garu, Korean red pepper powder. Also available in most Asian markets.  Gochu garu is a Korean national treasure. It is normally used as dip or garnish for poached chicken and steamed vegetables. In this recipe I team it up with the fried tofu. This is a quick endeavor. It takes maybe 5 minutes to prepare the peppercorn mix, and maybe 10 minutes to cook up the tofu. Served with steamed white or brown rice, it can’t be beat So, what to experience something different? Here’s you chance for a unique Asian meal.

Chili-Sichuan Peppercorn Mix
3 tablespoons gocho garu
1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn, toasted and ground
3/4 teaspoon white sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar

1. In a small bowl, combine Korean red pepper powder, Sichuan peppercorn, sesame seeds and salt. Put the oil in a small saucepan or skillet and heat over medium-high heat until just smoking.
2. Pour half the oil over chili powder mixture. This will render a foaming action in the mixture. Give it a quick stir with a spoon. Pour in remaining oil, and continue stirring to moisten ingredients. Finally, stir in sugar.
3. Let it cool a few minutes, taste and adjust the flavor with extra salt or sugar if needed. The mixture is now ready to use. You can store remainder in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days or refrigerate for up to a week.

FRIED TOFU
1 block (14-oz) extra firm tofu, sliced into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup unbleached flour
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons olive oil

1. In a small bowl, combine tofu with remaining ingredients except for the olive oil. Toss gently to coat tofu well. Or place ingredients (again, except for olive oil) in a zip-lock bag or covered container and shake well to coat.
2. In a large skillet or fry pan, heat oil over medium-high heat and add the tofu. Cook for 4-6 minutes, turning occasionally, until golden and lightly crispy. Serve with chili-Sichuan peppercorn mix and steamed rice.
    Yield: 2 servings.
Note: You can double the recipe to serve 4 or more.

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Kung Fu Wine

It had to happen. It just had to happen, and it wasn’t even on my radar—until a friend informed me about it. There’s a wine from Washington State called “Kung Fu Girl.” That’s right: Kung Fu Girl. And I am doubly dumbfounded about this since I am into fine wines (and not so fine wines) and of course, Kung Fu which (as I’ve mentioned on this blog ad nauseum) I’ve practiced for 35+years. The fact that this wine has been around, I think, since 2006 and I didn’t know about it, leaves me feeling quite asinine (I could use another adjective but this is a family blog).

The wine in question is a white wine, a Riesling (more about that later) made by winemaker Charles Smith of the famed K-Vintners; and it comes from the Columbia Valley in Washington. As per its name, it’s a wine tailored for Asian dishes. Why the label (and a beautiful label it is) Kung Fu Girl? Well, as wine master Mr. Smith states in his ad—“because Riesling and Girls kick ass!” He adds that “. . .the reason we love this wine actually has more to do with another aspect of Kung Fu: balance. This comes from a single vineyard comprised of fragmented basalt and caliche soils. Great acidity, minerality and girl-next-door kiss of sweetness.” I like that last part. Mainly because wife, Holly, loves Riesling—it’s the only wine she can take–essentially because she prefers sweet and semi-sweet wines. I, on the other hand, prefer dry wines (my favorite dry white being Pinot Grigio). But I do like a well balanced, juicy Riesling—which this one is reputed to be.

I guess it was only a matter of time before the martial arts would be paired up with wine ads. But I’m intrigued and happy that Mr. Smith picked the tag of Kung Fu. I don’t know whether Mr. Smith has ever dabbled in the art or not, but he is a legendary wine maker who, like most people on the cutting edge, pushes the envelope somewhat. Apparently he’s on a mission to bring Washington State Rieslings to the fore, and I wish him well. And from the raves I’ve seen on-line, he has succeeded. Cork’d gave the 2006 Kung Fu Girl Riesling an average rating of 89.0/100, which is pretty good. The reviewer from The Wine Cask Blog hailed it as “one of the best Rieslings I have had in years from any country including Germany!” High praise indeed. Gary Vaynerchuk featured the 2007 Kung Fu Girl Riesling, along with Charles Smith as guest, on his popular Wine Library TV, The Thunder Show Episode #549 (http://tv.winelibrary.Com/). Mr. Smith stated, among other things, that the mild climate and long growing season in Washington State produces this really exceptional wine. Mr. Vaynerchuk also gave it an 88/89 type rating.

The fact that, according to its followers, this wine pairs well with Asian cooking also peaked my interest. Chinese food has been one of the passions in my family since I can remember. From my boyhood on we would make that weekend trek to Chinatown and gorge ourselves on baby spare ribs, fry rice, lo-mein, steamed sea bass, egg rolls, all that good stuff. Of course then it was all mainly Cantonese cuisine with an American bent. Actually, it was American Chinese food. A secret: fried rice, egg foo young, chop suey and, yes, fortune cookies, are all American inventions. It wasn’t until later in my adulthood when Shechuan and Hunan restaurants started opening up in Chinatown that I really began to appreciate the variety and multiplicity of Chinese cuisine. Add to that, the Thai, Burmese, and Vietnamese places that followed so that today there’s a cornucopia of fine Asian cuisine in the city, not just the Cantonese fare of yesteryear.

In the old days, the only beverage served with Asian food was either tea, beer, or a wine called Wan Fu white that used to be sold in some Chinese restaurants. I remember Wan Fu. It was supposed to accompany what were then called “Oriental dishes.” Even then I considered it a bit sweet for my taste. It was only later on that I discovered that Wan Fu wasn’t Chinese at all. In fact, it was a semi-dry white Burgundy from France. Go figure. Further experimentation got me into the realm of drinking Gewurstraminer (Guh-verts-trah-mee-ner) with Asian dishes. This is a dry, spicy wine that can either hail from Germany (the Rheinpfalz area) or Alsace (which for a long time had been a disputed part of Germany until 1945 when it became French). I still like Gewuzstraminer with Asian food but, again, it’s all relative. Holly likes Riesling with everything. Back in my youth I once knew a lady who preferred Mogen David Heavy Malaga Red with every meal. Where wine is concerned, I believe, there should be no hard and fast rules. Every palette should decide for itself. But it’s good to know that now there’s another alternative to Asian food—Kung Fu Girl Riesling.

It’s the more amazing that Charles Smith has decided to stake his calling on the Riesling grape variety. A few years back, Riesling was the province of German and Alsatian vintners. In the last few decades this has changed with Riesling being cultivated in California, Australia, New Zealand and a host of other countries. In the U.S., California is no longer the only player. Oregon and Washington, among others, have gotten into the act.

I discovered Riesling in my young manhood; and the Rieslings I recalled from that time were different from what you get today. To my unformed palette, the Rieslings back then where perceptibly sweeter. Now, I’m talking about the 1960s and 70s. The wines were pale yellow in color, or yellow to golden yellow, fruity, and some even with a note of honey in them, and low alcohol content. This changed as wines with a dry finish became so increasingly popular that even German vintners began making dry wines. Still, from what I gather, most Washington Riesling is made in the traditional German style. That is, light and fruity, with high acidity to balance the sugar, but with a much higher alcohol content, sometimes over 13% alcohol. Austrian and Alsatian Rieslings are somewhat dryer. Some of them have almost no residual sugar. My preference is for the Austrian or Alsatian type. Still, that doesn’t mean a Washington Riesling can’t be great. We decided to give it the ultimate test and see how it would pair up with an Asian dish. In this case, Northern (Peking-Style) deep-fried bean curd, along with steamed chicken and white rice. The bean curd recipe is from my second cookbook, The Pharaoh’s Feast (Avalon Books). To make the steam chicken is easy enough: take one fryer chicken (about 2 1/2 to 3 pounds), washed and cut up in generous bite-sized pieces, place it in a bowl and rub it all over with olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper, and dried oregano. Let it stand for about 10 to 15 minutes. Then place in a wok, medium-sized skillet or pan. Fill about 1/3 full with water, bring it to a boil, cover and let simmer 25-30 minutes until pieces are tender. If you want to follow the more traditional Asian mode then use a mixture of 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 tablespoon cornstarch and 1 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil for the marinade. In either case, if you desire a more spicy dish, add 3 to 4 drops Tabasco or chili sauce to the mix.

I must say that in our informal tasting (Holly was the official Riesling judge), I was pleasantly surprised. To begin with, the wine came with a screw cap. There has been an issue of sorts in the wine world as of late concerning screw caps on wine bottles. Traditionalists state that this is heresy. The corked bottle is sacrosanct. Truth is that, to a wine maker, bottle caps are more efficient, less time consuming and less expensive than traditional corks. I have discovered that bottle caps on white wines ensure a longer storage time in the fridge. This is no scientific experiment; just my observation. Although there is a certain romance to maneuvering that corkscrew, pulling out the cork, and listening to that pop! As to the wine in question, it was soft, subtle, with plenty of aromas—peach, pear, lime— you name it. This fruit like aromatics was also noted on the Wine Library segment where Mr. Vaynerchuk declared the wine had a hint of sweetness and heavy on apple flavors. As to its marvelous color, Holly thought it looked like summer: bright and golden. She described it as early morning sun without the heat. And it had a cool taste, not overwhelming. Lightness is how she summed it up. her final allegory is “that there is something about it like spring. Something youthful.” This echoes what Charles Smith himself said on Wine Library TV. He also confirmed it was a melowy wine, floral, and reminiscent of spring flowers. So Holly wasn’t too off the mark. I found that it had good balance, not too sweet, not too dry, and not as intense as I expected. My experience with fine German Rieslings is that, to compensate for the sweetness, they have a lively acidity and their flavor is usually intense. Not with this one. It had a light, crisp finish that left a lingering aftertaste with just a little hint of dryness. All in all, a superb wine for spring or summer.

The one caveat I have is that the wine store where I purchased the bottle, in Manhattan, it was $19.95 retail. In the web sites I perused in Washington State the price ranged from $12.99 to $14. Cork’d blog gave the 2006 a retail price of $14.99. Gary Vaynerchuk gave it a retail range of $12-$13. In these trying economic times, one has to save wherever one can. But where good wine is concerned, it sure as hell is difficult to do that in New York State.

Finally, this all leaves me to consider that this wine thing could be the beginning of a new trend. If there’s Kung Fu wine, then why not Kung Fu beer? or gin? or whisky? Who knows, someday you might even have a Kung Fu laxative. the possibilities are endless.

NORTHERN (PEKING-STYLE) DEEP-FRIED BEAN CURD

1-pound container fresh bean curd, preferably extra firm, washed, patted dry and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

3 tablespoons cornstarch (more or less as needed)

Peanut or vegetable oil for deep frying

3 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon chili sauce

1. Sprinkle the bean curd evenly with the cornstarch.
2. Heat the oil over high heat in a wok or deep skillet. Add the bean curd and fry until golden brown. Depending on the side of the wok or skillet, you may have to do this in batches. Remove the bean curd with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
3. Mix the soy sauce, sesame oil, and chili sauce.
4. There are two ways to serve the bean curd (or tofu as it is known in Japanese): either place the tofu in a bowl and drizzle the soy sauce mixture over it, then stir, making sure the bean curd is evenly coated with the sauce; or just use the sauce as dip separately. Either way, serve with white rice or noodles.
Yield: 4 servings

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