Here’s the weird thing about this dish: you’d be psyched to have it as leftovers, but fresh off the stove? Meh.
It has sort of an intrinsically leftovers vibe to it: a little of this, a little of that, throw it together in pot and presto! In this case, a few potatoes, some tofu, some rice, a couple of tomatoes and some chili sauce comprise the bulk of this dish. Additional vegetables and herbs are great add-ins, if they’re on hand, to give it a little more complexity and depth of flavor, but they’re not terribly critical to the dish. There’s no real center to this meal, if that makes any sense. The flavors and textures are all fine together, but don’t really add much to one another. Like I said, if you just pulled all of these ingredients out of the fridge on a lazy day and melded them into something along the lines of viet rice in a rush with tofu, you might feel good that you put your random mix of ingredients to good use. But to deliberately set out to make this, to go out and buy ingredients, as I did, seems like sort of a waste of time and effort.
So I guess the real question is: does a recipe like this belong in a cookbook? Well, Didi Emmons saw fit to put it in Entertaining for a Veggie Planet, which I’ve mentioned many times as one of my favorite cookbooks. So who am I to judge? Though I’m unlikely to deliberately plan to make this dish again, making something like this is a step on the road towards realizing that recipes are meant to be both instructional and inspirational. In this case, I’m inspired to start trying to improvise a bit more and to step away from my utter reliance on recipes. We’ll see how it goes…
Viet rice in a rush with tofu (serves 3-4)
3 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp peeled and minced fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 16-oz carton firm tofu
kosher salt to taste
2 cups cooked white or brown long grain rice at room temperature or cold
1 cup cubed new potatoes (optional)
2 plum tomatoes, diced
3 tbsp coarsely chopped cilantro
1-2 tsp Asian chili sauce
kosher salt or Asian fish sauce to taste
1. In a large skillet, heat 1 tbsp canola oil over medium heat. Add the ginger and garlic and saute, stirring constantly, until light brown. Immediately remove the ginger and garlic with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with a paper towel and set aside.
2. Wrap the tofu in a clean dishtowel and press it until you feel the towel become damp. Unwrap the tofu and cut it into 1/2 inch cubes. In a large skillet, heat one 1 tbsp of oil over medium-high heat. Add the tofu and salt liberally. Fry the tofu undisturbed until a dark golden crust forms on the bottom, then use a spatula to turn it and brown it on at least one more side, 4-5 minutes per side.
3. Add the rice, potatoes, and tomatoes to the skillet and increase the heat to high. Cook, stirring constantly, for 4 minutes, or until heated through. Remove from heat and add the cilantro, chili sauce, and salt or fish sauce. Divide between two bowls and sprinkle each serving with the ginger-garlic mixture.