If the world is divided into those that love coriander and those that loathe it, then I am a card-carrying, paid-up, life-long member of the former camp. Its sharp citrussy notes and soft, pungent green-ness get all my juices flowing. Luckily, I fell for it from the very first mouthful. Equally at home in the cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa, India and South East Asia, it pairs beautifully with vegetable dishes of all kinds. For this reason alone, I cannot fault it.
Tofu on the other hand, I can take or leave. Or so I thought. New Year, new resolve. Dismissing something simply because one has little experience with it is not a good enough reason to ban it from the kitchen. Something worthwhile addressing, and soon, I think. Tofu feeds entire cultures – it is the ‘cheese’ of Asia with varieties and grades to match the finest dairy in Europe – and provides a sizeable chunk of the world’s population with a cheap, affordable form of good, plant-based protein. It loves the flavours that I love. What’s not to like?
One of the things I have learned to love about silken tofu – and it is by far my tofu of choice - is its wobbly texture. Slicing through it is like gliding your knife through a shivering, jelly-like cloud of pure white. Easier to cut than butter; even room-temperature butter at that lovely stage of near collapse, caught moments before it melts into a puddle of gold. Its soft, barely-there texture is light, airy even, on the tongue. Here, simmered briefly in a coconut milk broth, like a sponge, it absorbs the strong flavours of coriander, lemongrass, ginger and chilli but somehow manages to diffuse and tame the heat at the same time. A full-blown tofu-lover I may not be yet, but I do know a good thing when I’m onto it.
Silken tofu and green beans in a lemongrass broth – for 2-3
Light, aromatic and pretty, yes, but the real clincher is that it is both quick and easy. You need rice to soak up the juices going on here, and while steamed jasmine or basmati are good, sticky short-grain brown rice is my preference. Brown rice grounds the lightness of this dish with its particular brand of earthy goodness and, of course, is far more nutritious to boot. My method is below, but follow your own by all means.
2 stalks of fresh lemongrass, roughly chopped (the whole lot)
2 thick slices of ginger
6 kaffir lime leaves (or zest of 1 lime)
1 large bunch of coriander (cliantro), well washed and shaken dry
1 tablespoon of tamari or soy sauce
1 tablespoon of palm sugar or brown sugar
1 x 300g (10 oz) packet of organic silken tofu
A large handful of green beans, topped and tailed
1 teaspoon of macadamia or light olive oil
2 small red onions, thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 red chilli, finely chopped
½ teaspoon of turmeric
200ml of coconut milk
Rice, to serve (see below)
Fried shallots, to serve (optional)
Get your rice on before you begin, regardless of type and method.
Place the first 3 ingredients into a saucepan. Cut the leaves from the stalks of the coriander and set them aside. Roughly chop the stalks and, if you are lucky enough to have the roots with your coriander, roughly chop them too. Chuck these in to the saucepan, add 1 ½ cups of water and a good pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes or until reduced to a little over half. Strain into a jug and stir in the tamari and sugar.
Gently drain the tofu. Place it carefully on a wad of kitchen paper and slice into cubes (don’t be precious – it will dissolve a little into the sauce). Slice the beans into 5cm (2 inch) lengths. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, throw in the beans and simmer them for 3 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Heat a frying pan, add the oil and when it is hot add the onions, garlic and chilli. Stir fry over a high heat for 2 minutes and then add the par-cooked beans and the turmeric. Pour in the broth, add the tofu and gently stir. Add the coconut milk and simmer the whole lot for about 5 minutes. Add the reserved coriander leaves (yes, all of them), stir and simmer for a further minute.
Taste for salt, adjusting as you see fit - a splash of fish sauce (nam pla) is good - and serve over rice. Scatter each dish with fried shallots, if using, and serve immediately.
Brown rice, enough for two
½ cup of short grain brown rice
1 cup of water
Bring the rice and water to a boil in a small, heavy-based saucepan. Don’t be tempted to add salt – it inhibits the grain’s cooking, much as adding salt to dried beans does. Lower the heat right down to its lowest possible setting, clamp a lid on tightly and leave, untouched, for 45 minutes. Now you can lift the lid. The water should be completely absorbed and the grains should be bursting from their skins. Replace the lid, remove from the heat and leave to rest for a further 5 minutes.