A few months ago, I came across this article from MSNBC entitled "Pass the tofu: 1 in 200 kids is vegetarian". I was amused because there are 4 kids in our household and three of them are vegetarian. So when the article underlines the fact that adolescent vegetarianism seems to be rising, I totally agree. I don't have kids yet but I hope they will be open to a wide variety of foods while eating meat in moderation, unless my vegetarian husband and my father-in-law try to influence them!
Anyway, many studies have concluded that a diet high in red meat increases the risk of various cancers when compared to a vegetarian diet. As a meat eater, I'm always more reluctant to try vegetarian food even though, I keep having to come up with more varied vegetarian meals for the non-carnivores in my house. So here is a recipe that both meat-lovers and vegetarians will love for its texture and flavor. Try it out and remember, there are health benefits for you to consume less meat overall in your diet. How about starting with one veggie meal a week?
Servings: 4 servings
1/3 cup soy sauce
4-½ teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon honey
½ teaspoon mushroom seasoning salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, freshly ground
1 tablespoon garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoon peanut oil
1 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon smoked paprika powder
½ teaspoon cayenne powder
1 (12-ounce) package firm tofu
½ head iceberg lettuce
4 sprigs cilantro
In a small saucepan, cook the chopped garlic in the peanut oil for about 1-2 minutes. Tranfer the garlic to a small bowl, leaving as much oil as possible in the saucepan. Set aside.
In the same bowl, pour the soy sauce over the garlic. You want the soy sauce to be at least two inches deep. If not, use a smaller bowl. Add the honey, sugar, mushroom powder, black pepper, paprika and cayenne powders. Fish out the fried garlic bits from the saucepan with as little oil as possible.
Cut the piece of tofu into even ½-inch slices. Cut each tofu slice in 3 equal pieces vertically (2-inch wide pieces). Separate the pieces from one other.
Pour the canola oil in a 10-inch pan. You should be able to get about a 1 inch deep layer of oil. Heat the oil for about 2 minutes. The key to good fried tofu is to get little bubbles when the tofu is in contact with the oil. Don't overheat the oil or the tofu will get too golden and chewy. Just stick to the slightly jumping bubbles. Place the tofu into the oil one piece at a time; make sure the tofu pieces don't touch each other. Lower the heat to medium. Cook for 2 minutes. The tofu will start to pop and increase in volume. Flip each piece and cook about a minute longer. Lift each tofu piece with wooden chopstick with little oil as possible and immediately dip the tofu into the soy sauce mixture. The tofu will deflate instantantly. Pick up the soy sauce sunken tofu with another pair of clean wooden chopsticks. Repeat until all the tofu pieces are ready.
For serving, place the tofu slices in a few leaves of iceberg lettuce. Decorate with fresh cilantro.
Serve with steamed jasmine rice and eat with chopsticks!
The preparation of the sunken tofu seems pretty simple to execute. You just need to be very careful on the temperature of the canola oil when you fry the tofu so it really triples in volume and deflates when it is dipped in the soy sauce mixture and absorbs all its flavor.
To guarantee good absorption of the soy sauce by the fried tofu, make sure you don't add too much oil to the mixture.
I absolutely love Thanh Son tofu brand. If you live in the Bay Area, you have to try it. They sell in almost all the Asian markets in downtown San Jose and their main shop is on 2857 Senter Road, San Jose. It's a very little shop but everything is very good. Their factory makes the best tofu texture. They make fresh tofu daily. This is the perfect place for vegetarians. I always get 2 to 3 pieces of fresh tofu every week. I also recommend their fried mushroom tofu cubes as well. They also serve other foods and it's very authentic.
Mushroom seasoning salt brings a very distinct earthy flavor to the sauce. You can get it at any gourmet specialty store or in most Korean stores. I get mine at the Marina -10122 Bandley Drive -Cupertino, CA 95014. They also have a great food-court. I love their Chinese duck.
Himalyan salt is very subtle and rich in flavor and -most important- not as salty as regular table salt. You can find it at Whole Foods.
Do not discard the remaining garlic infused oil. You can use it for vinaigrette.
The oil used for frying the tofu is reusable. Just filter it in a cheesecloth and place in an oil can for your next use.
Check out my latest tofu recipes: veggie eggrolls (chả giò in Vietnamese), green beans and tofu stir fry, vegetarian Tom Yum Thai soup, tofu banh xeo (vegetarian Vietnamese crepe) or lemongrass tofu.