Category: Rice


Did you know it’s possible to make tofu that doesn’t taste like feet?  No?  Neither did I!

But it IS possible.  And the results are delicious!  All you need to do is watch some Good Eats and buy a lime.  (Well, and some other stuff…more on that in a bit.)

You might be asking yourself why, precisely, I was cooking tofu the other day when I was firmly of the opinion that it tastes like feet and that there are far better ways to get protein (nuts, dairy, eggs, or for us non-vegetarians, meat).  Well, the answer is that my vegetarian husband picked up a package of tofu at the grocery store and wanted us to try and make it like some of the “good” restaurant tofu that’s out there.  And tofu *is* actually quite healthy.

Now I will admit that there are varying degrees of tofu awfulness, and that I have, on occasion (usually in Asian restaurants), had tofu that bordered on being edible.  But I had never yet found tofu that I actually wanted to eat (unless I were starving on a desert island somewhere.)  However, I do like a challenge in the kitchen, and I did want to find a way to add more calories/protein to my typical stir fry recipes so that we wouldn’t negate the healthiness of all the vegetables by gorging ourselves on gelato afterwards.  So I needed some help.  I turned to Alton Brown, who is pretty much always the best source of information on how to cook an unfamiliar ingredient.  Or a familiar one for that matter.

I remembered having watched the tofu episode of Good Eats, and since we never delete Good Eats off the dvr, it was a simple matter of endless scrolling to find it.  What I was looking for was this recipe: thick slices of firm tofu, marinated, battered with egg and fried.  I decided, however, to make my own marinade, since I intended for this tofu to go with Asian-style stir fried vegetables.  While the tofu slices were being squished to remove excess moisture and render them ready to soak up my marinade, I took stock of my pantry options.

Tamari soy sauce of course would be a key ingredient for the marinade.  Mirin and rice vinegar also seemed like good options to get a bit of acidity in there.  Sriracha of course would bring the heat, ginger and lemongrass would add another nice flavor dimension, and then I remembered!  I had a sad, lonely lime sitting in the fridge, left over from making the curry paste.  It was a bit ugly on the outside, having given up its zest to the curry, but the inside was still bright and fresh, and full of juice!  This, in the end, turned out to be the key marinade ingredient, and the main one that I was able to taste in the finished product.

Tofu taking a marinade bath

After the tofu had soaked in its marinade bath for half an hour (15 minutes per side), it was time to fry it.

Now I am notoriously bad at pan frying.  Either my oil isn’t hot enough and things get limp and greasy, or it’s too hot and it smokes, or the things that I’m frying fall apart (looking at you, potato pancakes!), or things get all squished and deformed when I’m trying to flip them…

But this time I was prepared!  With the aid of Alton Brown’s recipe, I was able to create a nice egg batter that stuck to the tofu.  I decided to go with grapeseed oil instead of canola oil for frying because grapeseed oil has a much higher smoke point–thus I would be unlikely to smoke it.  I had spring-loaded tongs at the ready for flipping the tofu, and a thermometer so that I could periodically monitor the oil temperature.

After heating up the oil, I gently placed the egg-battered tofu into the pan.  Instant sizzle – success!  I kept an eye on the temperature and after two minutes, flipped each piece–they were actually golden brown!  After another two minutes I removed them to a cooling rack over a sheet pan to drain.  They smelled good!  I assumed the pleasant smell was just the egg batter, but I was quite pleased that they came out looking like they were supposed to.

Golden fried deliciousness!

Meanwhile it was time to stir fry the vegetables.  I had already chopped them up while the tofu was marinating, and since the burner was still hot, it was a simple matter to grab another (larger) frying pan, add a little oil, and toss the veggies in.

Rainbow!

You might want to tie your lemongrass in a bundle for easy removal. Doing it this way was a mistake.

After the veggies had softened up a bit, it was time to deglaze the pan and get some flavor in there.  I had planned on just using the rest of the marinade to accomplish this, but I overestimated how much was left and underestimated how much I would need to create any sort of sauce.  So I added more tamari, mirin, and rice vinegar, along with a sizable squirt (okay, several sizable squirts) of sriracha, and more grated ginger.  I also added the broccoli and finely sliced Thai chiles at this point, because I didn’t want them to overcook.  I covered it with a lid that is rather too small for the skillet, but it was good enough to collect some steam to cook the broccoli faster.  After a few more minutes, it was done!

The lid is too small!

To assemble the dish, I started with a nice scoop of brown rice (which I had cooked with a bit of tamari and lemongrass, and which, miracle of miracles, did NOT boil over!), and then topped it with a healthy scoop of vegetables, and then put the lovely golden tofu brick on top and spooned a bit of sauce over the whole thing:

Isn't it pretty?

Pretty, aren’t they?

And then it was time to taste it.  I cut off a corner of the tofu, admiring the crispy egg crust, and popped it in my mouth.  And was shocked!  It tasted good!  Not just in an I-can-see-how-this-would-be-good-if-you-liked-this-sort-of-thing way, but in a legitimately I-want-seconds kind of way!  It was delicious!  There was no trace of the soy flavor I typically find so unpleasant.  Just crispy egg batter, a pleasant tang from the lime, and a soft texture somewhat akin to a fluffy quiche.  No longer could I say that I hated tofu.  Hats off to Alton Brown.  His tofu-cooking technique is without equal.

Asian-Style Vegetable Stir Fry with Delicious Tofu
(serves 4)

For the marinade:

  • 2tbsp tamari soy sauce
  • 1tbsp mirin
  • 1tbsp rice vinegar
  • the juice of one lime
  • several squirts of sriracha
  • a pinch of freshly grated ginger
  • 1 stalk lemongrass halved and separated

For the tofu:

  • 1 15oz block extra firm tofu
  • 1/3c all purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • grapeseed oil

For the vegetables:

  • 1-2 tbsp grapeseed oil
  • 2 large carrots, sliced into rounds
  • 1 large or 2 small heads of broccoli
  • 2 watermelon radishes (optional)
  • 1 medium onion, roughly diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, smashed and minced
  • 7-8 stalks of lemongrass, halved and tied in a bundle
  • 1-inch knob of ginger, grated
  • 2 green Thai chiles, finely minced
  • the leftover marinade
  • additional mirin, rice vinegar, and tamari in equal parts
  • sriracha (to taste)

For the rice:

  • 1c brown rice
  • just over 2c water
  • splash of tamari
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, halved and separated

Drain the liquid from your package of tofu, and then slice it and press the rest of the liquid out as per Alton Brown’s recipe.  A few minutes before it’s done, get out a container with a tight-fitting lid that’s big enough to fit the slices of tofu side by side.  Add in the tamari, mirin, rice vinegar, sriracha, lime juice, ginger and lemongrass and stir until the sriracha is fully dissolved.  Taste it, and add more sriracha.  (Don’t worry–you can add a whole lot and your tofu still won’t be spicy.)  When the tofu is ready, put it in the marinade, cover it up, and set aside for half an hour.  If the tofu isn’t fully submerged, flip it halfway through.

Meanwhile, wash and chop up all your veggies.  Be sure to mince the Thai chiles very finely because they pack some punch!  This is also a good time to get your rice started, since it will take a good half hour (more if you’re using wild rice) to cook.

If you happen to have two good skillets (and two good burners), you can fry the tofu and stir fry the vegetables at the same time.  The vegetables don’t take a whole lot of attention, and the tofu isn’t hard to fry.  But if you want to do them one at a time like I did, start with the tofu.  I followed Alton Brown’s instructions pretty much exactly, right down to the spring-loaded metal tongs.  The only change I made was to use grapeseed oil instead of canola oil.  This is not strictly necessary, but if you do use canola oil, keep a closer eye on the temperature.  Grapeseed oil is good to 420 degrees.  Canola oil varies significantly depending on how it’s processed, but the kind I have is only good to 375-400 degrees.  And I have made it smoke before.  Grapeseed oil seemed safer.  When your tofu is done, remove it to a wire rack over a sheet pan to drain off any excess oil.

For the vegetables, heat a little oil in your skillet and add everything except the broccoli and Thai chiles.  Toss/stir them around occasionally.  Once your vegetables have started to soften, deglaze the pan with the extra marinade plus equal parts additional tamari, mirin, and rice vinegar as well as some sriracha.  You want just enough to create some sauce in the bottom of the pan.  Add in the broccoli and Thai chiles, stir, and then cover to let the broccoli steam.

By the time your vegetables are done, your rice should also be done.  Put some rice on each plate, top with vegetables and a slice of tofu, spoon a bit of sauce from the vegetable skillet over the top, and enjoy!

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(Or: How to make a healthy dinner when you’re tired and feeling lazy)

The other day I was torn by two conflicting desires.  On the one had, I was really in the mood for something healthy for dinner.  On the other, I was feeling really lazy and not in the mood for cooking.  Some time in the afternoon I decided to soak some black beans since they’re healthy, delicious, and practically cook themselves.  (If you’re feeling even lazier than I was, or you just don’t have the time to soak dried beans for an hour or two, you can cheat and use canned.  Just give them a good rinse before cooking them.)

Then I had to decide what to have with the beans, since a pot of beans by itself isn’t really a meal.  Then I remembered that I had a jar full of brown rice in the cupboard!  Beans and rice is a classic pairing, but the dish was still missing something.  I started digging around in the (very full!) freezer and discovered half a bag of frozen corn just waiting to be used up.  Perfect!

I mixed them all together, added some dried cilantro and chili powder, and topped the whole thing with a little grated cheddar, salsa, and guacamole, and dinner was complete!

Beans, rice and corn

And if you’re wondering…yes, the rice boiled over.  It always does.

Beans, Rice and Corn
(serves 5-6) 

  • 3/4c black beans
  • 1/4 bouillon cube
  • 1c frozen corn
  • 1c brown rice
  • 1/4tsp salt
  • pinch of chili powder
  • pinch of dried cilantro
Toppings (optional):
  • guacamole
  • grated cheddar cheese
  • salsa
  • sour cream
If you’re using dry beans, give them a good rinse, and soak them for an hour or so before you plan to begin cooking.  (If you’re using canned, just rinse them off before you start cooking.)  Put your beans in a medium-sized pan on the stove, add the quarter bouillon cube (more or less to taste, but I find them to be really salty), and add enough water to cover the beans by about 3/4 of an inch (less if using canned).  Over medium heat, bring your beans to a boil, and then reduce the heat, cover them, and simmer until they start to get soft.  Then uncover them and continue to simmer until the beans are fully cooked and most of the water has boiled off.  With dry beans, this process should take about an hour, maybe less if you like your beans a bit harder.  With canned beans it will take a lot less time since they’re already fairly soft and you really just need to heat them up.
Meanwhile, put your rice on the stove to boil, and try to time it so that it gets done at about the same time as the beans.  The rice I had takes a good 45 minutes to cook, so I started it not long after the beans went in.  Keep an eye on the rice so it doesn’t boil over and make a mess all over your stove!
When the rice and beans are almost done, thaw the corn in the microwave.  It doesn’t have to be hot–it will warm up plenty when you add it to the beans and rice–you just don’t want it to be frozen.
Once all three components are ready, combine them all in whichever pot happened to be biggest, and season with salt, chili powder, and cilantro to taste.  Top it with any combination of cheese, guacamole, sour cream, or salsa, and enjoy!

Acorn Squash Risotto

I’ve been cooking a lot lately and I have so many new posts to write!  But this one had to jump to the head of the line because, well, you need to make it.  It’s delicious.

I only recently learned how to make risotto, but it’s actually really easy to do, if a bit labor intensive.  And it’s definitely worth the work.

The first thing I did was roast the acorn squash in the oven.  It’s really unpredictable how long it takes for a squash to get soft–a tiny one the other day took over an hour.  This one was much bigger and was done in less than 45 minutes.  So put it in for half an hour, and then just make sure you check on it every 10 minutes or so thereafter (unless it’s still really hard after half an hour.  Then give it another 20 til you check it.)  Once it was done, I set it aside and got started on the risotto.  You can start your risotto while the squash is still in the oven if you’re pressed for time, but you might end up burning your fingers on the squash when you go to scoop it out!

Ready for roasting

For the risotto, I started with half an onion in a bit of butter and olive oil, and once that softened up I added the rice.  I had wanted to use 5oz of rice but our kitchen scale is, most inconveniently, out of batteries, so I had to guesstimate how much rice to use and how much broth to make.  After some quick googling and a bit of math, I decided to go with 3/4c of rice and 2c of broth.  It’s not actually a big deal if you run out of broth though…you can always use hot water towards the end.  Just make sure you taste things so they’re seasoned enough.

Another couple keys to tasty risotto which I’ve picked up from watching Jamie Oliver: use 1/2 cup of white wine in the beginning before you start adding the ladle-fulls of broth.  It makes the most amazing smell once that wine starts to cook into the rice!  Also, let the risotto rest for a while at the end before you eat it.  It makes it better!

Risotto in progress

When the risotto was almost done, I stirred in (most of) the squash and corn.  I added it a little at a time, tasting as I went, because I wasn’t sure how “squash-y” the flavor was going to be.  I ended up not using all of the squash, but I had a pretty big acorn squash that I was using.  If you have a smaller one, you might end up using all of it.

Squash and corn are added in!

And then the cheese.  You really need a good melting cheese–fresh mozzarella is good, but you can use something with a stronger flavor if you like.  And then you need freshly grated Parmesan.  I would really stay away from using the stuff in the green canister if at all possible–it’ll do in a pinch, but it’s so salty and the flavor is really quite different from Parmesan you buy in a block and grate yourself.  So get yourself a grater and a brick of Parmesan!  You’ll thank me!

Acorn Squash Risotto
(Serves 4)

  • 1 acorn squash
  • olive oil (a drizzle and a splash)
  • 1 pat of butter 
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 5oz or 3/4c Arborio rice
  • 1/2c white wine (I find dry works better)
  • 2c vegetable stock (I use Rapunzel cubes, but I halve what the box calls for)
  • 1/2c frozen corn, thawed
  • thyme
  • rosemary
  • oregano
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely diced
  • 1 leek
  • salt and pepper
  • crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3oz fresh mozzarella or other melting cheese
  • a good handful of freshly grated Parmesan

Preheat your oven to 400.  Cut your acorn squash in half and scoop out the seeds, then place it face up on a baking sheet.  Drizzle it with a little olive oil and rub the oil in to the flesh.  Then cover it with aluminum foil and put it in the oven for 30 minutes.  Check it with a fork.  If it’s really hard still, set a timer for another 20 minutes.  If it’s getting soft, set the timer for another 10.  Check it again, and keep checking it at 10 minute intervals until a fork goes into it easily.  Then take it out of the oven and set it aside to cool.

Meanwhile, get out a small saucepan and pour the stock into it.  Keep it simmering on a back burner, and keep it covered so that it doesn’t boil off.  On another burner, get a medium-sized pan going on low heat (it was around 3 on my electric stove).  Add the pat of butter, a splash of olive oil, and the onion, along with a bit of salt and pepper, and a bit of thyme, finely chopped rosemary, and oregano.  I used dry herbs, but fresh herbs would make this even better.  Stir it around occasionally, and let it go for about five minutes until the onion starts to get soft.  While it’s cooking, scoop the flesh of the squash out of the skins and into a bowl.  Mix in the corn and then set it aside.

When the onions are ready, add the rice to the pan, and stir it around for about a minute or so until it’s well coated by the butter, oil and spices.

Pour in the wine, and stir it around more or less constantly until it gets absorbed by the rice.  Then you start adding your stock.  Add it one ladle at a time, stirring constantly, and wait until it’s fully absorbed before adding the next ladle.  By the time you’ve used most of your stock (maybe one or two ladle-fulls are left in the pan), your rice should be almost done.  Start adding your squash and corn to your risotto pan.  I added probably about 3/4 of the squash that I had, but if your squash was smaller, you might end up using all of it.  It all depends how “squash-y” you want the risotto to taste, so taste it periodically as you stir in more of the squash.  Then add in the leeks and garlic.

Mix it all together and let it continue to cook (while you continue to stir!)  The squash has a fair amount of liquid in it, so wait for it to thicken up a bit before continuing to add stock as before.  If you run out of stock and your rice still isn’t done, you can start adding hot water, but you probably won’t need much if any.

Once the rice is fully cooked, take your risotto off the heat.  Tear up the fresh mozzarella and toss that in, and grate in a generous amount of fresh Parmesan.  Add some crushed red pepper flakes (more or less, depending on how much of a kick you want to give it), and add salt and pepper to taste.  Then cover it up, and let it sit for several minutes to rest.

And that’s it!  Enjoy!