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Crispy Pan-Fried Tofu with Veggies
It's impossible to be vegan without planning. In fact, the intense planning requirements make it pretty easy to fall into a high-carb rut, just because our favourite carbs are easy—pasta, rice, bread, potatoes—these all take very little planning and they fill you up. For the sake of my long-term waistline health, I'm always interested in low-carb vegan meal ideas. When someone on one of the many excellent vegan Facebook groups suggested pan-frying slices of tofu in nutritional yeast and cornstarch, my ears perked up. I decided to combine that with a big plate of stir fried veggies and some grilled mushrooms to make a satisfying meal that doesn't depend on simple carbs in any way.
This is one of my favourite ways to make tofu, but there are a few things to keep in mind. I'm using black salt in the dredge (also known as kala namak). This salt has a distinctive egg-like flavour and it's pretty popular with vegans for that reason. You can often find it at Indian grocery stores with the other spices. If you can't, just substitute regular salt. Speaking of regular salt, I enjoy this dish a lot more if I soak the tofu slices (which are about 1/3-1/2" thick) in a briny solution of 2 tsp salt in 2 cups of water. I let them soak in the fridge all day, and then press the moisture out just before cooking. You'll often see these types of tofu recipes recommending use of a device called a tofu press to squeeze out the liquid. I've never owned one, but I find that if I press the slices between paper towels, I extract a lot of moisture. Finally, when you're frying tofu, it's pretty easy to overcook it, resulting in a leathery slab. You just want 3-5 minutes on medium heat (after making sure the oil is hot), just long enough to give the tofu a golden crust. The corn starch helps a great deal with crispiness. A little squeeze of lemon on the plate tops things off really nicely.
I made the veggies first because I wanted to serve the tofu as soon as it was cooked. Just a really simple stir fry with onions, peppers and bean sprouts. I used a little sugar to help the onions caramelize, and a little red wine vinegar at the end to give them a little bite. The most important thing is speed and heat. I want to hear sizzle when the veggies hit the pan on medium-high heat. If you hear bubbling, that indicates that you're steaming all the nice texture out of them. The whole thing should be done in less than 5 minutes. When the veggies were done, I popped them in the oven at 175 °F just to keep them warm for the little time it took to cook the tofu in a separate pan over medium.
(optional brine solution of 2 tsp salt dissolved in 2 cups water)
350 g (about 3/4 lb) firm or extra-firm tofu
2 Tbl nutritional yeast
1 Tbl corn starch
1 tsp black salt (also known as kala namak) or regular salt
1/2 tsp paprika
canola or vegetable oil for pan frying
lemon wedges to squeeze over the tofu on the plate
230 g (1/2 lb) mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed
1 red pepper, 2" slices
1 green pepper, 2" slices
1 large onion, 2" slices
1 1/2 cups beansprouts
2 Tbl canola oil
1/4 tsp sugar
splash of red wine vinegar
salt and pepper
It all starts with prep. If you want to soak the tofu in brine, prep a shallow container with 2 tsp salt dissolved in 2 cups of water. Slice the tofu 1/3 - 1/2" thick and let it soak in the brine in the fridge for a few hours.
Clean and trim the mushrooms and get them on the skewers.
Prep the veggies and have them waiting by the stove.
Prepare the dredge for the tofu, starting with the 2 Tbl of nutritional yeast.
Add the kala namak if you have it (the faint purple colour just barely comes through in this photo).
Add the other ingredients and mix well.
Drain the tofu and press each slice firmly between paper towels to get as much moisture out as possible without squishing.
Set the oven on 175 °F.
Grill the mushrooms on a medium-low grill for about 10 minutes, brushing occasionally with olive oil.
Stirfry the onions and peppers in a little oil over medium-high heat. Add a pinch or two of sugar at the beginning to help the onions caramelize. Add a little salt and fresh ground pepper. Toward the end, add a splash of red wine vinegar. Mix well and let the vinegar evaporate. Add the beansprouts at the end and fry them for 30 seconds at most. Transfer everything to an oven-safe dish and keep them warm, along with the mushrooms, in the oven.
Get a clean frying pan, heat it over medium heat, and coat the bottom of the pan with oil. Shallow fry the tofu 3-5 minutes per side.
Serve immediately on a bed of veggies with mushrooms on the side. Squeeze lemon juice on the tofu if desired.
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Posted: Friday, September 23, 2016