Tàu hũ chưng is one of the many vegetarian equivalents you can find to Vietnamese meat dishes. As I mentioned last week, Tết is coming soon (January 23rd), and you're supposed to eat vegetarian for the days just before and after the Asian New Year. Usually, I would make mắm chưng thịt (Vietnamese-style meatloaf). This dish is similar, using ingredients such as mushrooms, bean thread noodles and cilantro, but paired with mashed tofu.
The mixture is first steamed, then baked for a few minutes in the oven so the top is slightly golden and dried out. It's almost like a tofu pâté that can be enjoyed with rice and a bowl of canh (soup) on the side.
Servings: 6 mini terrines
1 pound firm tofu
1-1/2 teaspoons ginger garlic paste (see tips)
2 teaspoons canola oil (or any neutral oil)
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 (2-ounce) package dried bean thread noodles
1 can straw mushrooms, drained and halved
6 fresh wood ear mushrooms, finely chopped
2 egg whites (optional)
4 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
3 tablespoons green onions, finely chopped
1-1/2 yellow onions, finely diced
1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
1-1/2 teaspoons mushroom seasoning salt (or regular salt)
1-1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil (or any neutral oil)
Prepping the bean thread noodles: Place the dried bean thread noodles in a bowl. Don't forget to cut the little cotton threads and discard them! Soak them in cold water for 20 minutes and drain. Chop into 1 inch threads. Set aside.
Prepping the tofu:
Cut the tofu into ½-inch slices. Blanch the tofu for about 3-4 minutes in boiling salted water. Drain the liquid. Let the tofu cool a little. Once the tofu is cool enough to handle, mash the boiled tofu with your hands using disposable gloves. The tofu should resemble large-sized cottage cheese curds. Set the tofu aside.
Steaming and baking:
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Reserve 7 cilantro leaves for decoration.
In a small pan, heat the oil. Once it's hot, add the garlic and fry the pieces until golden. Set aside.
In the large mixing bowl containing the mashed tofu, add ginger garlic paste, turmeric, fried garlic, chopped onion, red chili powder and black pepper. Using food service disposable gloves, mix well. Add the green onions, cilantro and egg whites (if used). Add the wood ear mushrooms, the halved straw mushrooms and bean thread noodles. Adjust seasoning.
Lightly spray some oil on 6 (6-inch diameter) disposable pot pie pans. Remove the excess oil. Fill each tin with the tofu mixture.
Fill a large pot with cold water until it barely touches the steamer level. Place all the tins in the steamer (I needed to stack 2 levels to fit all the tins), bring to a boil and reduce the heat to medium-high. Steam for about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat. Allow to rest for about 5 minutes. Remove the tins and transfer to a baking sheet. Garnish withcilantro in the middle of each tin and a sprinkle of black pepper. Bake for 10 minutes until the top is dried.
Serve with cơm tấm rice (see tips) and nước chấm sauce and / or tướng ớt (or Sriracha) on the side.
You can find straw mushrooms and wood ear mushrooms in any Asian store. I was pleased to find today that my local Asian market now carries fresh wood ear mushrooms (I usually use the dried version). They're grown locally in Half Moon Bay (CA) and they're sold in 6-ounce packages. They're flavorless but they give an interesting, chewy texture to the vegetarian meatloaf.
Little reminder on how to make freshly grated ginger: Clean the ginger root and remove any dirt. Peel the ginger root with a paring knife (or the edge of a spoon). Grate the ginger with a fine mesh Microplane. Gather about 1 teaspoon of grated ginger root.
I use ginger garlic paste a lot in my cooking. It tastes great and is very healthy for you as well. Place the chopped (or grated) ginger and 5 cloves of garlic in a blender, add about 2 tablespoons (or more) of water for a smooth flow. Transfer to a jar and store in the refrigerator. You can keep this paste for at least a week in the refrigerator.
I used Vinh Khang brand firm tofu, which is freshly made daily. There are two locations in the Bay Area: Vinh Khang Tofu, 141 Dixon Road, Milpitas, CA 95035 and 2955 Senter Road #80, San Jose, Ca 95111. The owner told me he also has a location in Southern California.
Cơm tấm is a Vietnamese specialty rice. It translates to broken rice. You can find it in most Asian stores.
One of the most common condiments to serve with tàu hũ chưng is Sriracha sauce. It's the red chili sauce with the green cap or a dipping sauce of soy sauce base called nước mắm.