Archive for ‘Vietnam’

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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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.

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.