Archive for ‘Asia’

February 9, 2013

Ways with tofu

A few weeks ago I was asked about tofu: do you like it and what do you do with it? A few years ago I would have said I didn’t like it one bit, but all that’s changed. Why? Well, eating tofu in the Vietnamese restaurants of Kingsland Road and its environs in London, for one thing. And, also, wising up to the fact that tofu comes in differing textures: from ‘silken’ and soft versions to firm. Our ETP tofu cooking requires the bean curd to be knocked about in a pan so we look for the firm varieties. Sometimes we marinade it first and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we chop it up into bite-size pieces and sometimes we slice a block into a large slab. Smaller pieces become more crispy when fried – good for throwing into soups and for dishes where there is a fair bit of sauce. The large slabs, while crisping at the edges, also retain a soft centre, which can make for an appealing contrast of textures. A distant memory makes me want to liken tofu in our dishes to pork crackling. But I could be wrong – all that is more than half a life ago.

Below we have two recent examples of tofu dishes we’ve made. First, chopped to bite size, is an earthy tofu dish with broccoli, shiitake mushrooms and noodles. Below that is a fragrant marinated tofu dish with oyster mushrooms, salad and rice.

Tofu, broccoli, mushroom noodles

Marinated tofu

There are some other ideas for tofu on this site too (you do use the ingredients list to search out recipes, don’t you?) Have a look here, here and https://earthtoplate.wordpress.com/2011/06/18/last-nights-dinner-tofu-with-lemongrass-and-chilli/.

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May 13, 2012

Last night’s dinner: Chilli-marinated tofu with coconut greens and rice

What a tasty Saturday night treat! And it was made after an afternoon at a local festival fundraiser at which ‘drink was taken’. Which is a way of saying it wasn’t that difficult to make. Think of it as a perked-up veggie Thai green curry, in fact an easier one, with the ingredients mostly coming together at the end rather than all being cooked sloppily together in a big bowl. Caring for ingredients individually, as ever, can really pay dividends.

Serves 2.

First, the tofu. Take a block of firm tofu (ours was Cauldron brand on this occasion), drain it and place it in a shallow bowl. Splash some dark soy sauce over it. Chop some fresh chilli (as much as you like) and a clove of garlic and sprinkle over the top of the tofu as well, before massaging the mixture into the tofu a little, gentling turning the tofu over to ensure it gets fully coated in the marinade. Leave for 20 minutes.

After marinating, cut the tofu across its width into ‘steaks’ 1cm thick. Try and coat each steak in the marinade without breaking them – careful now! Then heat a little sesame oil in a large frying pan and add the tofu steaks, reserving as much marinade as possible for later. On a high-ish heat the tofu will begin to colour and crisp up on the outside after around 7 minutes or so. When slightly crisped and golden on one side, turn the steaks over. Don’t worry if they look a little blackened, but don’t let the edges turn to charcoal. When golden on both sides they steaks can continue to sit happily on the heat at the lowest setting while the rest of the dish is made. Just keep a check of them though. Ours, pictured above, are black from the soy sauce, not from burning.

Now for the greens. In a large wok or frying pan, add a tin of coconut milk. Heat through on a medium heat. Add a teaspoon of turmeric, a stalk of lemongrass, snapped in the middle to help release the flavour and a 2.5cm piece of grated fresh ginger. Stir and bring to a soft simmer.

Chop one large or two small heads of pak choi, top and tail some French beans and add to the sauce. Alternatively you could add some sprouting broccoli or even asparagus – but the contrast between soft leaves and crunchy beans is rather nice. Cook through for 5 minutes, until the veg has softened ever so slightly and the sauce has reduced a little. Fish out the lemongrass.

Now, back to the tofu: pour the remainder of the marinade over the tofu and cook for 2 more minutes.

Serve with the tofu on top, the coconut veg underneath, and a bed of nutty brown rice at the bottom. Oh, and a squeeze of lime will work a treat as well.

We really liked this and hope you do too.

February 6, 2012

Last Night’s Dinner: Sweetcorn and chickpea soup with greens and a chilli-soy salsa

Sweetcorn; chickpeas; kale. Should they go together? A chilli-soy salsa? It’s that last piece of description that gives away the some geography to this soup: it’s an Asian, perhaps Thai or Indonesian-influenced concoction and the background note under the combination of leaves, kernels and legumes is a spicy coconut broth. The salsa – well, though the word might shout Mexico and link to the sweetcorn, it’s a thoroughly Asian-influenced topping too. Let’s make it…

For the salsa we finely diced one red pepper, finely sliced two spring onions and a finely chopped red chilli (or two). Combine these together. Next, toast a handful of sunflower seeds in a dry frying pan for 5-10 minutes, tossing them occasionally and taking care not to burn them. When they’ve started to turn golden take them off the heat and splash some soy sauce over them. They’ll become slightly sticky. Leave to cool and then stir into the salsa. Finally roughly chop a handful of coriander leaves and add to the salsa.

The soup is something of a fusion of West and East but the ingredients complement each other perfectly and are often found together in varying combinations around the world. The kale could be Savoy cabbage, cavolo nero, spring greens, spinach or even pak choi. We had some kale left, so that’s what went in the pot – and it’s great with chickpeas.

First, make a ‘curry’ paste: grate a 1-inch piece of ginger, finely slice three cloves of garlic and three medium shallotts. Finely slice two green chillies (strength to your licking) and two sticks of fresh lemongrass. Place all these ingredients in the jug of a food processor/blender. Now add 2 teaspoons each of ground cumin and ground turmeric. Add half a cup of water and blend to get a smooth, thick sauce.

Heat a large saucepan, add a dash of sesame oil and add the curry sauce, cooking it for five minutes – you should smell the aromas. Then add a medium-sized tin of sweetcorn kernels, a tin of chickpeas and a tin of coconut milk. Stir. Then add 600ml of vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Simmer for 15 minutes or so then add some handfuls of roughly chopped greens. Cook for 5 minutes more if you’re using soft greens (spinach etc) or 10 minutes if you’re using tougher cabbage or kale etc.

Check the seasoning and serve, topping the bowl with a good spoonful of salsa and a squeeze of lime.

January 29, 2012

Last Night’s Dinner: Greens and Noodles with Citrus Broth

We have already documented our feelings about Nigel Slater’s TV series and, judging by the amount of people who find themselves reading this blog after searching for the words ‘Nigel Slater creepy’, then many of you are of a similar opinion. Poor soul.

He doesn’t always help himself, however. In a recent Guardian newspaper feature he advocated using fresh, lighter flavours to accompany an Asian-inflenced dish of greens, instead of ‘the dark, almost sinister spicing of the past’.

‘Sinister’? What, cumin? Ginger? C’mon Nige. Did you a recipe backwards and find some hidden meaning in it?

Well, it didn’t stop us from trying his suggestion, although we pimped the recipe by leaving out the fish sauce, adding a dessert spoon of tamarind paste and throwing in some oyster mushrooms and rice noodles for four minutes at the end to make a more substantial stew. And very nice it was too. Fiery, fresh and fragrant. And definitely not sinister in any way.

Nigel’s recipe is here.

January 23, 2012

Recipe: The perfect egg fried rice

A few days ago the Guardian newspaper offered up its advice on how to make the perfect egg fried rice. Glad to see it didn’t differ to much from our own here at ETP Towers – other than the non-addition of garlic. I think at the moment I’d also revise our version and go with the paper’s, although it’s a matter of personal taste. The newspaper’s recipe is here. X-ref with our own here.

January 23, 2012

Last Night’s Dinner: Bun Xa

Ah, I see you’re looking at the bun xa! Or perhaps that’s bunh xao, ben xao, benh xa or other variations of western spelling I’ve come across.

Bun xa is Ella’s favourite Vietnamese dish. Noodles, basically. Rice noodles. And in our case with a topping of fried tofu and salad, with a chilli dressing. It’s a dish that depends on both ‘mouth-feel’ and your nostrils: by which I mean that it should provide a range of textures in your mouth – not just mush – and both a blast of chilli and some fresh, subtle fragrance up your nose! Yep, it’s all about balance.

We’ve been making this dish for a couple of years, attempting to recreate the delightful version found in a favourite Vietnamese place on Kingsland Road, East London. But we’ve never managed to get it quite right… until now.

The difference this time? Sourcing ingredients from a local Asian food store, rather than trusting our supermarket’s ubiquitous brands. D’oh. Seriously, getting better quality tofu, authentic rice noodles, plus soy and rice wine vinegar – in place of the usual Blue Dragon, Amoy and Cauldron brands – really made a difference. The noodles didn’t turn to slop, the tofu crisped up nicely and the seasoning was deeper and more rounded.

So, how do you make it?

First, chop some firm tofu into bite-sized (finger-sized) pieces and fry in a single layer in a wide pan in a couple of tablespoons of sunflower and sesame oil. Add a little soy sauce to the pan as well, but don’t overdo it. (Or marinate your tofu first, if you give yourself enough time). Cook the tofu gently, turning occasionally, until the tofu is golden on all sides. You can set this aside and reheat later if you need to.

While the tofu cooks, get that dressing done: chop a couple of cloves of fresh garlic, a couple of chillis (ahem, or more, y’know, perhaps) and add them to a small bowl. To the bowl then add a large splash of dark soy sauce and generous glug of rice wine vinegar. Next stir in a teaspoon of castor sugar until it dissolves. Taste. It should be fiery, sharp, fragrant and with a touch of sweetness. Remember, it won’t be this hot when it’s poured over your food. Make it as bold as you dare.

The rest is even easier. Plunge your fine rice noodles into a pan of boiling water, take off the heat and leave for around three minutes. Drain immediately then add a splash of soy sauce and a generous splash of rice wine vinegar to season them. Try and coat them well. Set aside with the lid covering them.

Quickly fry some button mushrooms, halved if they’re on the large side, then add them to the tofu pan. Shred some iceberg lettuce, finely slice two spring onions and coarsely chop some fresh coriander leaves.

Now assemble. In the bottom of your bowl place a portion of the noodles. On top of that comes the tofu and mushrooms. On top of that the ‘salad’ of lettuce, onion and herbs. Then, if you can get them in your Asian grocers, sprinkle some fried shallot flakes over the dish (we really find these add a savoury depth that’s very complementary – and yes, we’ve tried making the flakes at home but they tend to remain slightly greasy and wet whereas these are dry). Serve and let people pour the dressing over the top of the dish.

Some variations could include bean sprouts or shredded carrot in the salad. The main thing is that it is light and fresh. Chopped toasted peanuts could also be sprinkled over, as well as, or in place of, the dried shallot flakes.

Get the balance right and this is as fragrant and moreish a dish as you’ll ever have. If it was music you’d be wowed by it hitting every note on the scale. If it’s greasy, heavy or bland – and if there isn’t enough chilli, then something has gone wrong.

Practise this. It’s a tool for life. Honest.

October 5, 2011

Tuesday-night suppers – the stir fry

I’ve mentioned previously that many of the dishes we post in the ‘Last Night’s Dinner’ section of this blog are the interesting ones – the ones that make use of gorgeous seasonal ingredients, or that make a pretty picture on the plate, or are worked up to some extent: a weekend meal rather than a Tuesday-night supper.

But that’s only half true. Our cooking at ETP towers varies little from weekday to weekend, mainly because at the moment yours truly doesn’t quite work a standard Monday to Friday 9 to 5 week. It’s also because even after a busy day’s work we enjoy a little kitchen prep and cooking as a way to relax. Why completely give that up during the week if you can help it?

That’s a privileged position, however, and there are times of course when you don’t want to think about cooking; when easy fall-backs become a practical necessity. For some people that’s once a week, for others almost every evening.

At these times we often resort to one-pot cooking to create a big bowl of health – for example our own signature dishes of butter beans, greens and peppers in a spicy tomato sauce, or spicy ‘Spanish’ chickpeas (recipes we may reveal in the fullness of time). This is basic stuff: take a big pot, fry an onion, add in some veg, chuck in some tomatoes, add spices, top with water and leave to simmer down. A hob-cooked stew, by any other name. You hardly have to think about making these and they’re so difficult to ruin.

I’ve heard that many carnivores resort to Spaghetti Bolognese and stir fries for a quick weekday meal. Well, we don’t eat much pasta here, but a stir fry, such as the one pictured, does hit the mark. The beauty is that we don’t have to think too much about how to cook the ingredients. Simple innit? But is a good stir fry as basic as one-pot cooking?

Well, it can be: if you use straight-to-wok noodles and throw all the veg in at the same time. Typically, however, and without wishing to turn a simple stir fry into a culinary challenge, I do now think a little extra effort can help.

Take the tofu in our Stir-fried tofu with broccoli, mushrooms and rice (above). Throwing chunks of even a firm tofu straight into the wok with the other veg will cause it to break up into a mush. Much better to fry it separately first for 5 minutes each side, then add it to the wok at the last minute. And the broccoli? To avoid tough stems it’s much better to steam it for 5 minutes before it hits the wok, too. So that’s two extra pans, but not a lot of extra thought. And it really does mean your stir fry will be a much more enjoyable Tuesday-night supper.

August 21, 2011

Last Night’s Dinner: Marrow, Tomato and Chickpea Massala

Tuesday 9 August

What to do with a marrow, those overgrown courgettes of delicate flesh and almost no flavour. Hmmm. We’d never cooked one before but inherited one from our neighbour. An internet search brought up a Southeast Asian recipe from Simon Hopkinson. It’s made with cherry tomatoes. Yeah, it shouldn’t work, should it?! But it does.

Except, we added some chickpeas and a little chilli. But apart from that followed the recipe, here.

It’s really good: the marrow flesh falling-apart soft, the tomatoes tangy and a warm zip of spices. It’s not often we make something that’s basically, er, ‘Indian’, but that isn’t like anything we’ve tasted before. And it really didn’t sound promising.

Nice one Simon.

June 18, 2011

Last Night’s Dinner: Tofu with lemongrass and chilli

Monday 6 June.

In the East End of London, along Kingsland Road, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to Vietnamese food. There are so many cheap and cheerful restaurants from which to choose but our favourite is the Viet Hoa – it’s website is here.

Ella’s regular choice is their rather fine tofu Bun Xa noodle dish, whereas I change what I eat there a litle more regularly. I like their fried rice – but you can probably tell by now that I’d eat fried rice nearly every day if I could. On our last visit the fried rice came with Tofu with lemongrass and chilli. A few weeks later I thought I’d see if we could replicate it and this a pretty decent attempt. Not sure of the authenticity, but it works.

Serves 2.

First, take a standard block of firm tofu, cut it into little-finger sized strips, no more than 1cm thick. Place them on a plate, sprinkle some dark soy sauce over them and set a side to marinate for 15 minutes. When the time’s up, fry off the tofu in a large frying pan with some sunflower oil until it is golden. Take care not to break the tofu strips. Set aside.

Next, take two stalks of fresh lemongrass and chop them finely. Peel a 2cm piece of fresh ginger root, roughly chop 2 cloves of garlic and finely chop 2 small green chillis and 2 medium shallots. Put all these in a blender, add a splash of rice wine vinegar and blend until you have a paste. You may need to add a little water to help you on your way, and scrape down the sides of the blender part way through the process.

Now roughly chop a red bell pepper into bite-sized pieces, slice six shiitake mushrooms, chop the ends off 6 spring onions then slice into thirds to create segments about 3cm long. Then slice up some fresh red chillis into rounds (as many as you like!).

Heat some sunflower or groundnut oil in a wok and when it’s hot add the fried-off tofu. After a couple of minutes add the bell pepper, mushrooms, spring onions, red chillis and the lemongrass paste. Dry for around 5 minutes, stirring as you go. The pepper and onions should just start to soften a little. When that happens, mix 2tsp of cornflour and a little water in a small cup, stir well and pour into the wok. Add a few splashes of dark soy sauce (but not too much) and stir. After a minute or so this should create an almost translucent ‘sauce’ that will coat the tofu and veg. This ‘sauce’ shouldn’t be watery or overly sticky – it’s neither a gravy or a glaze. Somewhere inbetween is perfect.

Serve with rice.

June 16, 2011

Last night’s dinner: Shiitake mushroom and Chinese leaf broth

Sunday 5 June

This broth is all about the stock that gives it its depth of flavour. The essential ingredient is dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water for an hour to leach out their earthy flavour before making the soup/stew. The rest of the method is mainly about adding spice – and greens. We got the basic recipe from a Japanese friend, who passed it on from a Korean friend. I’m not sure where it originates.

So, first, soak a small pack of dried shiitake mushrooms in hot water for an hour or so until they are soft and you have a litre or so of earthy brown stock. Next, in a large soup pan, fry a medium onion in a little oil (a mix of sunflower and sesame oil works well). Then add fresh sliced shiitake mushrooms (oyster or chestnut will also be fine) – about 10 of them, or a typical supermarket tray of them. Fry for 5 minutes. Next, add a 2-inch piece of grated fresh ginger, a finely chopped clove of garlic and some chopped fresh chilli (as much as you can take – it should be hot!). Then add half a head of roughly chopped chinese leaf, followed by the dried shiitake mushrooms and their stock. Add around 750ml of boiling water and then simmer down for around 40 mins until the dish is somewhere between a thin broth and a hearty stew. When just about done, add a handful of rice noodles and heat through for an extra 5 minutes until they’re cooked through. Serve immediately with a garnish of coriander leaves. To reiterate, the soup should be as spicy as you can take it! Serves 2.