Friday, January 18, 2008

Embracing the new

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
Sea salt
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.


kathryn said...

Oh Lucy this just looks too, toooooo good. I love everything in this dish and it's exactly the kind of food I crave.

I live with what I suspect is the biggest tofu fiend in the world. Richard eats it raw, from the fridge dipped in small puddles of shoyu and sesame oil. If he didn't have tofu at least every other day I suspect he would go into meltdown. He claims it to be "food from the gods".

We shall be making this soon.

Lucy said...

Me too, Kathryn - these flavours are my comfort food, the stuff I often find myself return to. The soft tofu is stunning in it. Have you tried making scrambled tofu with the stuff?

I'm beginning to understand where Richard is coming from - Asian flavours, the rich, deep ones - are what tofu seems to l-o-v-e. A salad dressed that way would be sensational. Sadly it also seems to like just a smidgin of cheese...

Hope you love it. Let me know how you go.

Sophie said...

I'm in the same boat as you Lucy, gradually learning to love tofu. I tried leftover marinaded, baked tofu in a sandwich the other day and it was a really good discovery.

I'm most of the way there but I'm having trouble persuading my other half. He's really not keen on the texture, I think because he always expects it to be firmer, like chicken. I've been trying to bake it but maybe your broth will appeal to him more.

Ricki said...

Lucy, this sounds great! Your writing is also gorgeous and evocative (definitely made me drool).

I am also a latecomer (and convert) to tofu (one day I'll get round to that post about it!). In the meantime, I've got a nice vegan quiche recipe on my blog made with silken tofu if you're interested. I'd love to try this dish, if I can find all the ingredients over here.

Love your blog!

Suganya said...

I have used silken tofu in mousse, pudding, dips and salad dressings. But never in a curry. I have always stuck to firm tofu. Green beans in coconut gravy sounds yum.

Mansi Desai said...

Hi Lucy! my first time here and I'm glad I found you through Suganya's blog...

this is a winning combination:) I love all the flavors in this dish:)

btw, I'm hosting Game night event on my blog this month, and it'd be great if you could send in an's the annoucement:

Hope you can join in!

Wendy said...

In Japan, I used to eat the best silken tofu dressed with just a drizzle of soy sauce and a sprinkling of spring onion. It was wonderful. I'm now a huge tofu fan (all types - though there's a limited choice in the Highlands) and am looking forward to trying this out. :)

winedeb said...

Well I must say Lucy, you have given me another reason to try tofu. I am wondering if I can sneak it by the hubby, as he is not a fan at all. But with the addition of the other ingredients, especially the peppers, I might win him over on this dish. It sounds, and looks, very delicious. And I will agree with you 100% on the cilantro. It has such a refreshing flavor to it and pairing that with lime...heavenly!

Johanna said...

lovely to see you wonderful food photos again! but I happen to be the opposite to you - I love tofu but not coriander, and I love firm tofu but not silken! But I can see your aromatic dish would convince any tofu-phobe to love it!

shula said...

I love tofu, though I confess that I rarely remember to buy it.

But coriander, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and coconut.

I reckon they must eat these things in Heaven.

Truffle said...

I'm not a firm tofu lover yet either but this could convert me. Really lovely Lucy.

Callipygia said...

I understand why many folks aren't wild for the stuff. Growing up my parents procured really fresh homemade tofu. Soft (like a fresh bean custard) but not quite as homogeneous in texture as the silken stuff. It would be lightly steamed and then served with a bracing soy, vinegar, green onion sauce. It is a whole different category than what you usually find at the store. Your recipe may help me regain my old love for the humble curd.

Anh said...

Lucy, growing up in Asia, tofu is such an important part of our diet. I simply love it, however it is cooked. And the memory of going to the market, getting the freshly made tofu is just awesome. Sometimes, the tofu, so fresh,was still warm in my hands.

I hope, Lucy, that you can taste the freshly made tofu for once. It has such a different character, so soft, smooth and lightly sweet...

Susan said...

After reading some of these comments, I suspect that prepared tofu is in the same class as prepared paneer, with textures (and to a lesser extent, flavors) that do not do either product any real justice.

If anything could convert me to tofu, it would be a curry, your curry, Lucy - right now!

Cassie said...

Lucy, this sound wonderful. I have everything needed for this and will be giving it a try tonight. I'm sure my husband would go absolutely crazy for, too. Looking forward to it. :)

Lucy said...

Oh, Sophie, tell me about it! Glad you're having trouble convincing your partner, too. You now, I think I'm going to try taking a few slices to sandwiches and see if that 'fools' him. ;)

Hi Ricki, and welcome! I've just had a look at your quiche - mouthwatering stuff - and your blog which is wonderful to have found.

Suganya, I make a mean mayonnaise with the silken stuff and once, a mango mousse (it was lovely) but it was only recently that I decided to make it into something with less, um, shape! The gravy is rich and delicious and very adaptable to whatever greens are seasonally available.

Thanks Mansi - I'm about halfway through my entry. Will see you there soon!

How long were you in Japan for Wendy? That would have been an amazing, rewarding experience. I saw Maggie Beer present a wobbling block of tofu as a hot weather meal for one. She dressed it with sesame oil, soy sauce, spring onions and chopped umeboshi plums and it really piqued my curiosity - I trust your judgement and will make it post haste;)

Deb, I love the way that it brings your palate to life, coriander/cilantro, that is. I don't know what to suggest when people tell me how much they despise the stuff! Hope you manage to convince your hubby otherwise on the tofu front.

Johanna, darls, thanks - you're just a star! And really, I'm learning to like all tofu. I think this will be a year of experimentation in the tofu department for me. I'm determined to get my dairy and eggs right down to the minimum - and, in the process, live a little better!

Shula, Heaven is a little place heady with those fragrances. I don't think I will ever, ever tire of that combination. As for the tofu? It goes into the basket every week now - a different form of the stuff, each time. Stay tuned.

Callipygia - that just blows my mind! There's a shop here in Melbourne called, perhaps predictably, The Tofu Shop and it has the most divine, freshly made tofu for sale. Calling it curd is a wonderful way to describe that texture to tofu-phobes (of course, that's exactly what it IS - a soft curd). Hope you get back to your roots - I'd love to hear more, of course.

It's a tough one for those of us brought up on dairy, Truffle! Glad you like the sound of it.

Anh, your memories of still-warm tofu make me a very happy girl - you must know the Tofu Shop in Richmond. I've seen them making it there and it's process is remarkably akin to cheese-making. Your markets back home sound unbelievably seductive. I'm hoping that we get to Vietman this year...hoping!

Susan, I agree. There's a lot of textures and grades worth playing with, each distinctive and each subtly different. The silken stuff really is fun to play with. Worth investigating?!? (I know we have similar feelings re the tofu department...ha ha!). I'm going to attempt to make my own this year. Reckon you'd like these flavours - the broth is particularly good.

Cassie, happy new year to you and yours! I've been watching the news and seeing how FREEZING it is in your part of the world...this will give you a taste of more tropical climes and the warmer weather that is on the horizon (and I know, that horizon seems a looong way away!).

Cassie said...

Well Lucy, we couldn't wait... I made the dish for a late lunch instead of dinner. Super easy to prepare and that broth is mighty tasty! It's very flavorful and reminds me a bit of a Thai green curry but lighter and fresher tasting than any I've ever had. I can see a lot of other possibilities for that broth and will definitely make it again. This was such a perfect meal to come into after shoveling yet more snow (it's almost waist deep now)! Thanks for sharing another one of your wonderful recipes with all of us! Truly delicious!

Happy new year to you and your family, too!


katiez said...

I've been wanting to become more familiar with tofu for awhile. I saw it for the first time just last week at my supermarket... but it wasn't silken. It was a hard, paper-wrapped brick in the dried goods aisle. I may wait a bit longer. Your dish looks lovely!

Cindy said...

Michael and I made this last week, and we both loved it. His enthusiasm is so great that I'm hoping I can sit back while he makes it on a regular basis. :-) The kaffir lime leaves that were once difficult to source are now readily available on a potted tree outside our block of units!

Lucy said...

It's so easy, Cindy, that's what I love about it. Can you believe that the teenage boys around here even like tofu done this way? Very proud of self for converting them...

Hope Michael lets you sit back and enjoy it often!