Salt and Pepper Tofu
One interesting thing about me is that I am a vegetarian. I cook meat dishes regularly for my family , outside of beef (which we don’t eat for religious reasons); however, I tend to cook meatless dishes more often since it’s easier for me.
My kids enjoy chicken and….chicken and…chicken when they do eat meat. They are not adventurous in their eating habits, and balk at seafood and shellfish. They will occasionally eat pork (in the form of sausage, meatballs and, of course, bacon) and turkey on Thanksgiving, but they prefer meatless or chicken most days. Fortunately, both my boys are avid bean eaters, so Mexican foods definitely are on the menu on a weekly basis.
Tonite was on of those nights when I wanted to make something easy without boiling a bag of pasta or wrapping up a bean burrito. I figured it was time to reintroduce tofu to our menu rotation. I was concerned about how my kids would appreciate it since it had been a while since they last had it. I figured I would sautee the tofu with a crisp exterior and give it a savory sauce so that they would think they were having a type of chicken dish at our regular Chinese take out place.
I found a package of extra firm tofu in the bottom drawer of the fridge, and smiled when I realized it had not yet expired. Yay! I cut it up into 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch cubes and then put the cubes in a large colander lined with paper towels, allowing it to drain at the sink. In the meanwhile, I put about a 1/2 cup of corn starch in a shallow dish and added one teaspoon of salt, one teaspoon of smoked paprika, 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder and a 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. I gave the corn starch mixture a stir with a fork, and then put a large non-stick saute pan on the stovetop set to medium high heat.
I took the tofu cubes and coated them in the corn starch. Now, for most tofu recipes, I noticed that the author calls for draining the tofu first on a cutting board lined with paper towels and placing a hard weight on top of the tofu. Although this step does produce more dry, firm tofu, I find that this step is not absolutely necessary for this recipe.
After coating them in the seasoned corn starch, I added a thin layer of vegetable oil to my saute pan. After a few minutes, I made sure my oil was hot enough to saute the tofu so that each cube would have a crispy exterior. I put the tofu in a single layer in the pan and heard the satisfactory “snap, crackle and pop” of the appropriately heated oil.
As the tofu was sauteing, I quickly made up the sauce. I added in about 3 tablespoons of hoisin sauce, two cloves of garlic, about one tablespoon of chopped ginger, 2 teaspoons of soy sauce, 1/2 teaspoon of sesame oil, one teaspoon of black pepper, and 2 teaspoons of vegetarian mushroom based oyster sauce. I then added about one cup of room temperature water to the mix. I put all the ingredients in a small bowl first and gave them a wisk before adding them to the hot pan after the tofu had been cooked on both sides ( I had to flip them after 3-5 minutes on the first side).
While the dish was cooking and bubbling, I chopped up the white and green parts of two stalks of green onion for garnish. Once the sauce had thickened, thanks to the corn starch, I sprinkled the dish with the green onions, and it was ready to serve!
The aroma is splendid, thanks to the ginger and garlic in the sauce, and the dish definitely satisfies the salty, sweet, spicy, and umami taste sensations. Needless to say, my kids were grinning as they gobbled down the tofu alongside garlicky basmati rice and a side of steamed broccoli. Two thumbs up!