Monday, May 20, 2013

Meatless Monday: Sweet and Sour Tofu

The most common restaurant form of sweet and sour anything is a rather gloppy dish, often with an alarmingly red-colored sauce, thanks to red food coloring. This is not that dish. This is a light but tasty interpretation that is only a little bit sweet and a just a little bit sour. Usually, the "meat" is battered and deep-fried. No meat here, just tofu, and no deep-fat frying either. Frying may result in a delicious crispiness, but I find it rather a pain to execute. First, you need to heat up a fair bit of oil, even for shallow frying. That means you get to eat a fair amount of oil too. But, worst of all, is dealing with the oil afterward, hot oil being something like napalm. Frying is a fine technique once in a while as a treat. It's not what I consider a quick everyday sort of thing, however.

In this recipe, I do brown the tofu in a little bit of oil. This is to change the texture - it becomes chewy and I like that. If you don't want to bother (tofu, with its high water content spits a great deal when you brown it), just skip the browning step and use raw tofu. The texture will be softer but the flavor will be very similar. And, it will cut a bit of time off of a dish that comes together quickly, even if you brown the tofu.

Sweet and Sour Tofu
(serves 4, costs $5.10)

14-16 oz. firm or extra-firm tofu, cut into ½" cubes and blotted with paper towels
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
½ of a medium onion, cut into ½" chunks
½ to 1 whole medium red pepper, cored, seeded and cut into ½" chunks
1 cup fresh or canned pineapple, cut into ½ chunks or use canned bits

2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 Tablespoon white or cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons sake, rice wine, or dry sherry
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 Tablespoon sugar
⅔ cup vegetable or chicken stock

1 Tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 Tablespoon cold water
¼ - ½ teaspoon salt
sliced scallions or chopped cilantro, for garnish if desired

Combine all the sauce ingredients(the garlic to the stock) in a medium bowl and set aside.

If browning tofu, get a large skillet or wok very hot and add the oil. [You want to fit all the tofu in the pan in one layer without crowding them together so they will brown nicely. If your wok isn't big enough to do this all at once, brown the tofu in 2 batches.] Add the tofu and brown on one side, give it a stir, and brown on another side. It takes too long to brown all six sides, but 2 sides is enough to change the texture. After the tofu is browned on 2 sides, remove to a bowl.

Get the skillet very hot again and add the onion. Cook until it just starts to brown a little and the onion is softened. Remove to the bowl with the tofu. Reduce the heat to medium and add the red pepper, then the sauce. Bring to a boil. Add in the cornstarch-water mixture, bring back to a boil, and cook until the sauce thickens. Add in the tofu, onions, pineapple, and salt. Stir and cook for a few minutes to get everything hot. Garnish with scallions and/or cilantro, if desired. Serve over hot rice.

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