I am one of those strange beings who voluntarily orders tofu at restaurants even though I am not a vegetarian. My girlfriend jokes that I have a natural inclination towards healthy food and that she hates me for it. I chase her down the hallway, shoving sloshing cold-pressed green juices in her face with feverish persistence, insisting that they are “refreshing”. I like turkey burgers more than beef burgers. Ice cream is too sweet for me. I’m not crazy about chocolate cake. I will, however, eat my way through an entire package of Jolly Rancher Bites gummy candy before I’ve had a minute to contemplate what I was doing. Everybody has something.
I’ve written a tofu recipe here before, but like many of my concoctions, I am continuously changing my ingredients and process. Every time I stick burnt tofu to the bottom of my pan like dinner superglue, I learn a new lesson. In the past, I have flavored my sweet & sour tofu with canned pineapple juice, but the resulting sauce is sometimes too sweet (even by non-Sara standards). I knew there had to be a way to make the sauce sweet without adding the unnecessary sugar inside the fake-juice-from-concentrate that I was getting from canned fruit. In our sugar-obsessed world, there are ways to cheat the system.
I figured this would be a good week to address my pressing tofu complex. I have been getting the pre-winter blues travel itch. To distract myself from impulse traveling (similar to impulse shopping, but instead of buying shoes, I buy plane tickets), I scheduled extra kitchen time. If this “itch” continues though, I could end up cooking my way through Fairway, Whole Foods, the Chinese deli on 3rd, and the warehouse-sized wine store that practically knows me by name (judge away). Let’s hope I can get myself in check.
Sweet & Sour Tofu with Coconut Rice
-1 package of extra firm tofu
-Juice from 1 large ripe orange
-Juice from ¾ of a lime
-½ cup low-sodium soy sauce (it will be salty enough, trust me)
-1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
-A few squeezes of honey
-A few pinches of ground red pepper (more or less, depending on desired spiciness)
-A few pinches of garlic powder
-A few drops of hot sauce (ginger-infused hot sauce is a plus. I used Queen Majesty Scotch Bonnet & Ginger)
-1 heaping tablespoon of minced garlic
-1 large head of broccoli, chopped into small florets
-1 cup of brown rice
-¾ cup of light coconut milk
-Canola oil for cooking
-Cornstarch and flour, for coating the tofu
Cut your tofu into 1-inch cubes (or slightly smaller) and lay all cubes on top of several layers of paper towel. Place a few more layers of paper towel on top of the tofu, and cover with a large plate to press everything together. This is meant to squeeze as much water out of the tofu as possible, so that it’s firm for cooking. While that sits, mix together the marinade. Combine the soy sauce, orange juice, lime juice, vinegar, honey, red pepper, garlic powder & hot sauce in a large bowl. Once the tofu has been sitting under the plate for a few minutes, remove all paper towels. Take each cube of tofu and squeeze it between some fresh sheets of paper towels until very little water comes out. Drop all tofu into the marinade, and let sit for about 15 minutes.
Start your rice. If you have a rice cooker, combine dry brown rice, coconut milk, and ½ cup of water. You may need to add a little extra water at the end of the cook time (my cooker is finicky). Steam or boil your broccoli florets, set aside.
Pour canola oil into a large frying pan, about ¼ inch high. Salt the oil—this helps to keep the tofu from sticking. Place the pan over medium-high heat until the oil is hot. Spread a combination of cornstarch and flour onto a large plate, and remove each piece of tofu from the marinade (don’t discard the juice) and roll it in the mixture. Shake off the excess by letting the pieces bounce around in your hand, and then add them to the oil (if the tofu doesn’t start sizzling when you add it to the pan, your oil isn’t hot enough yet). Cook the tofu until it is lightly browned on one side, then flip the pieces over and do the same.
Remove the cooked tofu and allow it to cool on a plate lined with paper towel. Pour all the oil out of the pan except for a light coating, and place it back over the heat. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the minced garlic and cook for a minute or two, then add the entire bowl of marinade to the pan. Allow the mixture to reduce by half, stirring occasionally with a rubber spatula, until it thickens slightly. Add the cooked tofu and broccoli back into the pan, and toss to coat. Stir and cook until the sauce is thick and syrupy and sticks to the mixture.
Salt the rice, and serve everything together. No need to salt the tofu—the soy sauce does plenty. This recipe was enough to convince my meat-and-potatoes-loving girlfriend that tofu was not in fact public enemy #1. It’s sweet, spicy, and tangy, and the firmness of the tofu gives it a respectable “mock meat” texture. I also feel like a real grown-up when I cook something healthy…by going with brown rice over white, and orange and lime juice over canned pineapple, you end up with a decently good-for-you dinner option that will still satisfy a sweet tooth. And a meat-lover. No, really. Don’t knock it ‘til you try it.
Now I just have to keep myself off Travelocity until January, at least…