a year in food and life

Spicy thai tofu with red bell peppers April 20, 2010

Filed under: food,tofu,veggies — superspark @ 11:08 am

Eek- over a month without a post! That’s just embarassing, especially considering I’ve been cooking pretty regularly.  I’ve even gotten a little inventive, with mixed results.  Most notably, there were the post-Passover charoset muffins.  Dylan is Jewish, if only culturally, and in the years we’ve been together, we’ve had a lot of fun at Seders, mainly because it’s an excuse to get a bunch of friends together and drink a lot of wine.  This year was a little different as we had little time to pull together a Seder nor do we know a single Jew around here. So we missed the social event, but I thought it only appropriate to make my Passover favorites, matzoh ball soup and charoset, the scrumptious fruity, nutty spread that is supposed to represent the mortar used by the Israelites to build walls in ancient Egypt.

I’d never actually made charoset before, but after seeing this Persian version called “Hallaq” in the New York Times, I was sold. Like cardamom? You’ll love this recipe. And although we truly love cardamom in the Superspark household, this bordered on excessive, to the point that Dylan refused to eat any more. Never one to throw away food (the horror!), I subbed our leftover charoset for the banana in banana muffins (from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything), creating the world’s first (?!) charoset muffins. Genius! Yeah, they’re still excessively cardamom-y, but it’s tempered by the other ingredients, especially when topped with jam. No lectures on integrating Passover foods into leavened products, please. Around here it’s called being resourceful. 🙂

So what does that have to do with spicy thai tofu with red bell peppers, you might ask? Well, that was another recent recipe born of resourcefulness. Falling victim to my bad habit of buying obscure ingredients for recipes that never get made, I found myself with a couple of rapidly aging anaheim chiles in hand. It’s awfully hard to find a good way to use them other than chile rellenos, it seems. I was a little skeptical of a tofu recipe I found in one of my cookbooks, but blindly proceeded to buy the remainder of the ingredients to make said recipe. After roasting the chiles (a not completely successful endeavor, as it turns out) and starting to mix the spices, I began to get a little skeeved out by the thought of sour cream, monterey jack cheese, peppers and tofu all in the same dish. Is it just me or does tofu not belong with dairy in a stir fry type dish? Yech…

So at the last minute, my old faithful friend Epicurious came to the rescue with this recipe featuring ingredients salvaged from other recipes. It was super quick and you know what? It was pretty great. It’s not an intensely spicy dish (though a few squirts of sriracha could fix that), but it had a great combination of flavors and textures for a meal requiring so little effort. It’s not exactly fancy dinner party fare, but I’d eat it any night of the week, with lunch leftovers to boot. Now what to do with those anaheim chiles?

Spicy Thai tofu with red bell peppers (serves 4)

1/3 cup olive oil
2 large red bell peppers, seeded, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 14-to 16-ounce package extra-firm tofu, drained well, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 green onions, thinly sliced on diagonal
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (we subbed lemon juice)
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1 6-ounce bag baby spinach leaves (we used frozen)
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil (we skipped- none on hand!)
1/3 cup lightly salted roasted peanuts (we substituted cashews)

1. Heat oil in large pan over high heat. Add bell peppers, ginger, and garlic; sauté until peppers just begin to soften, about 2 minutes.

2. Add tofu and green onions; toss 2 minutes. Add next 3 ingredients. Toss to blend, about 1 minute.

3. Add spinach in 3 additions, tossing until beginning to wilt, about 1 minute for each addition. (We used frozen, adding it all at once instead.) Mix in basil. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle peanuts or cashews on top.


Caramelized tofu with brussels sprouts April 22, 2009

Filed under: food,tofu,veggies — superspark @ 8:10 am


Having a baby does not do wonders for the brain.   Between the sleep deprivation (which is, thankfully, largely a thing of the past for me now) and having your attention pulled in every direction, a new mother’s memory is like a sieve.  Or swiss cheese, to use a metaphor more appropriate to this blog.  There is evidence that it’s a hormonally-induced amnesia and there have also been arguments made that it’s an evolutionary adaptation that allows parents to focus on their children’s survival, letting the less important stuff fall to the wayside.  I’m even heard it said that the memory loss common to new mothers is adaptive in that it makes them forget the pain of childbirth, increasing the likelihood that they’ll be willing to go through it all again.  That one always seemed a bit far-fetched to the biological anthropologist in me.

Adaptive or not, the memory loss and intellectual slugishness are very real and being hyper-organized can only take you so far in combating it, or so I’ve learned.  There remain those little tell-tale signs that part of your mind is always somewhere else.  Like trying to take a drink of a bottle of water without taking the cap off first (did that yesterday).  Or losing your keys- yeah, I know everyone does that but I swear I never did until I had a baby.  Or perhaps less commonly, trying to caramelize tofu using bulgur.  WHA???

We keep all of our grains and various bulk goods in see-through bags in a large bin and yes, my addled mind mistook bulgur for a nice coarse-grained brown sugar.  It was only after about 10 minutes of sauting, with no hint of the “sugar” melting and caramelizing that I caught on to the fact that something might be wrong. Looking wretchedly at the skillet upon what looked like a pile of tofu absolutely caked and coated with sugar, bemoaning what seemed to be shaping up as a particularly unfortunate meal, I finally tasted a chunk of the tofu. Surprisingly unsweet, yet with a distinctive crunchy chew. A quick look in the gain bin confirmed that I had, in fact, substituted bulgur for sugar.

Some cooks might abandon the meal right there, but I decided to persevere as though the tofu were not entirely coated in bulgur and I can safely say that the dish dramatically improved once the sugar was added and it caramelized. In fact, it was pretty tasty and a nice change from the strictly savory dinners that we usually have. Let me suggest, however, that adding bulgur will not improve the dish, so one might consider leaving it out and sticking to the original recipe. Just a thought.

The original bulgur-free recipe can be found here on Serious Eats and was based on this recipe from the wonderful 101 Cookbooks.

[As if to prove my own point, it ‘s taken me over a week to sit down and concentrate for long enough to write this post. When I tried to return to finish it just now after several days away from blogging, though I remembered that I was writing about maternal forgetfulness, I couldn’t for the life of me recall which draft I had actually been working on…sigh.]

Caramelized tofu with brussels sprouts (serves 4)

1 block of extra-firm tofu (about 16 oz), cut into thin 1-inch cubes
3 tablespoons olive or peanut oil
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
3 tablespoons fine-grain natural cane sugar or brown sugar
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, washed, ends trimmed off, and cut into 1/8-inch wide ribbons
Salt to taste
cooked rice for serving

1. Put a large skillet over medium heat and add oil. Add the tofu with a pinch of salt and cook until lightly browned, then add the garlic and pecans and cook until the garlic is soft and fragrant, about one minute.

2. Lower the heat and stir in the sugar, stirring often to avoid burning. Remove from heat and add the cilantro, then transfer to a warm plate.

3. Add the Brussels sprouts to the pan and stir and scrape to combine with any pan residue. Season with salt and cook, stirring only occasionally to promote browning, until there are golden bits and the sprouts turn a brighter hue.

4. Put rice on plates, transfer brussels sprouts mixture, and top with the tofu.


Tofu with hot and sour rhubarb sauce April 4, 2009

Filed under: food,tofu,veggies — superspark @ 9:52 am


This is a recipe designed for “chefs” like me, who choose their recipes on titles alone, not bothering to look at the ingredient list until the last minute.  For those who are more inclined to think ahead, to peruse the component ingredients, thinking about how the flavors work together, you might be a bit stymied, if not downright turned off.  Your unease would be doubled if you looked at my substitutions- agave nectar for honey (as suggested in the original recipe) and gin for rice wine (as suggested online)- agave nectar, gin, rhubarb, tofu, and chili peppers? I’m not going to lie, as I whipped up this dish, intrigued as I was,  I was nevertheless fully prepared to hate the finished product. Dylan was even more doubtful but after hearing me yammer on for several weeks about how I wanted to try this very interesting recipe for a savory rhubarb dish (originally found here on Mostly Eating), he decided to play along.  There were, after all,  tamales, veggie burgers, and dumplings in the freezer if my creation turned out to be totally inedible.

But shock of all shocks, it was actually really good.  Just how the very unusual combination of ingredients managed to work together is beyond me, but the sauce was delicious, with a spicy kick and the tanginess of rhubarb.  We thought it would be great on chicken as well, if one wanted to do that sort of stir-fry.  In fact, my only objection to this dish was the kale.  Being fairly clueless about kale varietals, but knowing that black kale (or lacinato) is the trendy type that foodies prefer, I decided to go with that one.  In actuality, something softer and less aggressive might be better, even spinach or chard.  But beyond that, no complaints.  If you’re looking to move beyond the ordinary when using spring’s bounty of rhubarb, this one is worth a try.

Tofu with hot and sour rhubarb sauce (serves 4)

The tofu and marinade:
1 Tbsp honey (or substitute agave nectar)
1 tsp five spice powder
Quarter tsp dried chili flakes
1 Tbsp vegetable oil (plus a little extra for cooking)
1 Tbsp rice wine (I substituted gin)
1 package plain firm tofu (14-20 oz), cut into chunks

The sauce:
400g rhubarb (about 3 stalks), trimmed and roughly chopped
A big thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled
A red chili (I subbed a jalapeno)
3 cloves garlic
3 Tbsp honey (or agave nectar)
3 Tbsp soy sauce

The topping:
1 red chili, finely sliced (again, subbed a jalapeno, but it was spicy enough without the additional topping)
2 Tbsp cashew nuts, roughly chopped
4 spring onions, finely sliced
A small handful fresh cilantro
2 limes, halved

The rice:
Brown rice (cooked, or substitute cooked white rice or noodles)
Kale, sliced (as much as you can fit in your pan as it will shrink down massively)
Sesame oil

1. Marinate the tofu by mixing all of the marinade ingredients together and pouring the marinade over the tofu. Mix and leave aside in the fridge for 2 hours or more.

2. Put all of the sauce ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth. Pour the resulting puree into a saucepan and simmer for about 20 minutes.

3. Heat a tiny splash of oil in a non-stick pan and sauté the tofu slices until golden. Put aside somewhere warm.

4. Just before you are ready to serve, use the residual oil in the non-stick pan (add a little more if you need it) to cook the kale until it softens a little and turns bright green. Add the cooked rice to the kale along with a scant few drops of sesame oil.

5. To serve, dish out the rice/kale mix into warmed bowls, followed by the tofu and topped with the sauce. Finish by sprinkling over the topping ingredients, giving each person half a lime to garnish.


Spicy tofu and zucchini with lemongrass, lime, and basil July 16, 2008

Filed under: food,tofu,veggies — superspark @ 9:14 am

Would you believe that our efforts to grow zucchini were once again thwarted this summer? Isn’t it supposed to be perhaps the easiest thing in the world to grow, producing so much of the vegetable that people beg their neighbors to take some off their hands? That’s what I’ve heard, at least, though two summers in a row now we’ve ended up with little more than an pot with pathetically withered stalks. To be fair, last summer our zucchini plant got off to a great start, growing massive leaves and thick stalks. It looked to be a bountiful summer and we were looking forward to enjoying stuffed squash blossoms all summer, not to mention succotash, summer squash gratin, and of course, ratatouille. But it wasn’t meant to be- some sort of strange fungal blight hit the zucchini plant hard, leaving its leaves spotty and the zucchini strangely misshapen and shriveled. Ah well.

We figured this year would be a new start. We scoured the giant zucchini pot lest there be any traces of the fungus and then planted seeds with the highest of hopes. And when those first giant leaves sprouted, everything seemed to be going according to plan. Until the tomato worms hit. Or at least that’s what we think the little caterpillar-like vermin were. They literally ate every shred of every leaf off of the plant overnight one evening, so that when we went out to water the next day it was totally denuded. Our swiss chard, peppers, mint, and basil were similarly ravaged, though strangely our tomatoes were left untouched. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that my grand plans for summer cooking have been turned topsy-turvy.

The zucchini and basil that went into this stir-fry (which I bookmarked on Cookthink to make an entire year ago!) were most decidedly of the grocery store variety. It was a little different than most stir-fries in that it was pretty dry- it had subtle, but distinct flavors of lime, basil, and lemongrass, with a little hot kick, but it wasn’t saucy the way that I tend to like my stir-fries. I’d recommend just eating it on its own and enjoying the unusual flavor combination as a light summer dish rather than bothering to put it over rice. And for those of you wondering what to do with your profligate zucchini plants, think of the rest of us as you enjoy your veggies.

Spicy tofu and zucchini with lemongrass, lime and basil (serves 4 with rice)

10 ounces extra-firm tofu, cubed
3 small zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch half-rounds
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 habanero or jalapeno chile, seeded and thinly sliced
1 4-inch piece lemongrass, minced
1 medium shallot or spring onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons fish sauce
juice of 1/2 lime
8-10 basil leaves, thinly sliced

1. Cut the tofu into bite-size cubes. Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise, then slice the halves crosswise into 1/4-inch half-rounds. Prep the remaining ingredients.

2. Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet over high heat. When it’s almost smoking, add the tofu and zucchini. Shake the pan briefly, then leave the tofu and zucchini alone to brown well, at least 1-2 minutes.

3. Add the chile pepper, lemongrass and shallot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is soft, 3-4 more minutes.

4. Add the chicken broth, fish sauce and lime juice and cook until the broth thickens, 1-2 more minutes. Stir in the basil.


Orange-chipotle glazed tofu with confetti rice salad June 30, 2008

Filed under: food,tofu — superspark @ 6:01 am

I want to get excited about this dish. It’s got so many colors, so many veggies, and a number of different tastes. It was in the June 2008 issue of Vegetarian Times as part of a feature on cooking and food photography.  This orange-chipotle glazed tofu with confetti rice salad was paired with the take-home message that building your dishes up vertically adds visual interest to the composition of photographs. And much like the photography tips, I think this dish was built around adding subtle layers of flavor, from the cumin and lime in the rice to the fresh veggies to the orange, chipotle, and maple syrup in the tofu marinade. But just because something has a lot of flavors going on doesn’t mean it’s better than something simple (as any Top Chef fan knows). For all its ingredients and all of its layers of subtle tastes, this dish was no more than okay. We dutifully ate it for dinner and lunch several times (it makes a large batch), but never with any particular enthusiasm. I tried to turn it into a stuffing for burritos and even then it was sort of ho-hum. In the future, I’ll stick to simpler tofu dishes with bolder, brighter flavors. Lesson learned.

Confetti rice salad (serves 6)

1 cup long-grain white rice
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 clove garlic, crushed and peeled
1/2 tsp salt
1 small orange bell pepper, finely chopped
1 15-oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 large tomato, chopped (1 1/2 cups)
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
2/3 cup chopped green onions (one bunch)
1/4 cup lime juice
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup sunflower seeds (optional)
1/2 avocado, diced, optional

1. Combine rice, cumin, and 2 cups of water in saucepan. Add garlic and salt, cover, and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook 15 minutes or until rice is tender and most of water is absorbed. Remove from heat, sprinkle bell pepper on top, cover, and cool rice in pan.

2. Transfer rice to large bowl, and remove garlic clove. Stir in beans, tomato, corn, green onions, lime juice, and oil. Season with salt and pepper. Fold in sunflower seeds and avocado, if using. Serve at room temperature.

Orange-chipotle glazed tofu
(serves 6)


1 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 tbsp rice or cider vinegar
2 tsp minced seeded chipotle chile in adobo sauce, drained, plus 2 tsp adobo sauce
1/4 tsp salt
2 14-oz packages extra-firm tofu, drained and patted dry
1 tbsp vegetable oil

1. Whisk together orange juice, maple syrup, vinegar, chipotle chile, adobo sauce, and salt in a small bowl. Cover and chill.

2. Cut each piece of tofu crosswise into 8 slices, each about 1/2-inch thick. Place tofu in a large shallow glass dish. Add 1/2 cup orange juice mixture and oil to tofu, and turn to coat. Cover, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to 8 hours, turning from time to time. Reserve remaining OJ mixture, covered, in refrigerator.

3. Preheat broiler. Line large baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray. Place tofu on prepared baking sheet. Combine marinade and reserved orange juice mixture in small saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Cook over medium heat 12 to 15 minutes, or until syrupy. Keep warm.

4. Broil tofu 6 to 8 minutes per side, or until golden, basting occasionally with OJ mixture. Serve over rice with remaining sauce.


Curried tofu scramble March 11, 2008

Filed under: food,tofu,veggies — superspark @ 6:05 am


I’d like to think I got into the whole tofu-eating health craze a bit ahead of the curve. Unlike those who have had to grow to love it, have had to dress it up in sauces, trying to look upon it as a meat substitute, it’s been a constant part of my diet ever since I was a kid. I distinctly remember that back then, that in lower midtown Manhattan, where I grew up, tofu was called bean curd and was sold not in the familiar hermetically, sealed plastic tubs one sees at every supermarket today, but fresh floating in troughs of cool water outside of Asian delis. Using tongs, you would pick up your slabs of bean curd, or perhaps a whole little green plastic basket full (imagine the ones strawberries are sold in), and wrap it up in a plastic bag to take home with you. I haven’t seen it sold that way in quite a while and I imagine that health department regulations might have something to do with it, but nevertheless, that remains my earliest memory of tofu.

It’s been a good 25 years or so since then and although tofu is a staple in my diet, I had never tried it as a scramble. I like it so much in stir-fries, soups, and salads that there never seemed to be much of a point. After all, if I want scrambled, I’ll generally have an egg. But the beautiful photography on Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks finally won me over several weeks ago. She posted a garam masala tofu scramble, singing the praises of its varied textures, tastes, and colors. In the end I went with a variation, this curried tofu scramble, from her beautiful Super Natural Cooking, a cookbook I love to ogle, but will admit I don’t use terribly often for lack of ingredients.

In this case, the ingredient list was comprised of simple, everyday items, making it perfect for a spur-of-the-moment, throw-it-together weekday supper. In fact it came together shockingly quickly, in a mere 10 minutes or so we were sitting down to eat with a colorful, textured dish in hand. As you stir the ingredients together in a large skillet, the tumeric colors the tofu crumbles yellow, making them resemble eggs so distinctly that Dylan, my culinary whiz, thought we were having a veggie-rich variation on scrambled eggs for dinner. I can see why Heidi claims this is a dish that those who normally reject tofu for its consistency and lack of strong flavor might actually enjoy. With the crunch of hazelnuts, the soft pliability of tofu, the kick of curry and tumeric, and the freshness of broccoli and spinach, this scramble had enough interesting things going on to make a satisfying and healthy weeknight dinner and I’m looking forward to trying other variations on the theme.

Curried tofu scramble (serves 4)


1 package firm or extra-firm tofu (~16 oz)
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tbsp tumeric
2 small heads of broccoli, heads and stems chopped small
chopped frozen spinach (optional, add to taste)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts

1. Drain any water from the tofu by pressing it between paper towels, placing a heavy plate on top. Then crumble into small pieces.

2. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat, then add the garlic and onion, sauteing for a few minutes, until they soften. Stir in the broccoli and frozen spinach as well as the curry powder.

3. Then stir in the tofu, salt, and tumeric, stirring so the spices are distributed throughout. Cover and cook for 4-5 minutes until the tofu is heated through. Taste and adjust the seasoning- if you want a brighter flavor add more curry powder and tumeric. If the flavors aren’t quite popping, add more salt a couple pinches at a time. Stir in chopped hazelnuts before serving.


Kung pao tofu with udon noodles February 2, 2008

Filed under: food,Pasta,tofu,veggies — superspark @ 11:43 am


I actually made this recipe several weeks ago, but felt like I had to wait to post it until now. Why, you ask? In the post-holiday fog of appetite loss and upset stomach, I was having an awfully hard time coming up with anything that sounded appetizing, that would motivate me to start cooking again. Going through the hundreds of recipes in my Google reader, representing dozens of different blogs, I could only manage to pick out a couple that actually appealed to me. As it happens, both were from Everybody Likes Sandwiches. I made the first, a terrifically simple and tasty minestrone one night and quickly followed it up with this kung pao tofu a couple of days later.

Lest Kickpleat think I’m a recipe stalker, though, I held off on posting the kung pao tofu until now. My appetite thankfully back in full force, I’ve been cooking up a storm over the past couple of weeks, happily scouring all of my cookbooks and favorite blogs again. So what about this kung pao tofu? Well, for starters I should say that I always love a tofu stirfry and that any opportunity to use udon noodles strikes my fancy. As for this particular stirfry, I liked it. Seriously spicy and chock full of veggies, the stirfry was filling and healthy, ideal for combatting the holiday over-indulgence. I can’t say it wowed me as much as the minestrone did, but with my peanut-allergic husband unable to eat it, I was perfectly happy to eat the leftovers for lunch over the next few days. What more can you ask?

Kung pao tofu with udon noodles (serves 4)


1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp canola oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 small head of broccoli, broken into florets
2 carrots, sliced on the diagonal
1 rib of celery, sliced on the diagonal
1 small packet of prepared udon noodles
1/2 block tofu, cubed
1/4 cup peanuts, chopped

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp ginger, minced
1 tbsp chili paste or asian hot sauce (the one with the rooster on the bottle)
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp bottled peanut sauce (I substituted peanut butter)
1 tbsp cornstarch

1. Mix sauce ingredients and set aside.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onion and garlic and saute for 1 minute or until soft. Add carrots, celery and broccoli and stir-fry until crisp-tender. Add the sauce and the udon noodles and combine well.

3. In a separate pan, fry tofu in a bit of oil until golden on all sides. Add tofu and peanuts to the vegetable mixture, stirring gently to coat with sauce.