Stir-fried tofu with Asian greens

Tofu and greens to me are quintessentially Chinese, and I get a nod of agreement on this dish from my mate Sophia, who hails from Wuhan in central China. There’s not a lot simpler you can go with Chinese food, and this dish will have you wanting to learn more about how to handle Chinese ingredients and flavours 🙂

Choi sum - aka Chinese kale
Choi sum – aka Chinese kale

We’re eating a lot of this at home right now, as we’re working our way through the tenaciously productive choi sum in the garden – it’s the gift that keeps on giving, provided you take only the outer leaves until the vegetable fully flowers and then says “no more”. Choi sum may or may not be easy for you to get hold of – it all depends on what you’re growing climate is like, and what they’ve got on your local market (if you have an Asian market nearby, you’ll be awash in tasty greens 😀 ). If you can’t find choi sum, you can make this with gai lan or bok choi, and you’ll love it all the same.

Gai lan - aka Chinese broccoli
Gai lan – aka Chinese broccoli

So what’s the difference between those Asian green leafy veggies anyway? Well, not a great deal… but they all have subtly different uses, and are not from the same family (well, not unless you go back as far as an ancient common ancestor). Choi sum is Chinese kale, but is actually a subspecies of brassica from the mustard family. Gai lan, which looks very similar to choi sum, but is more robust with thicker leaves and stems, is Chinese broccoli. Most westerners are likely more familiar with bok choi, which is a Chinese cabbage whose leaves and stems have a more delicate, less bitter flavour than choi sum or gai lan. Anyhoo, they’re all ultra-good for you, and taste great stir-fried 😉

Bok choi - aka Chinese cabbage
Bok choi – aka Chinese cabbage

As greens are naturally bitter, the best way to offset them is with something salty. Yes, contrary to popular misconception, salt, rather than sweetness counteracts bitterness; sweetness, on the other hand counteracts sourness. The balance of a salty and bitter flavour pairing is seriously moreish, and it’s that kind of balance that makes Chinese cuisine so damn awesome 😀

Anyhoo, here’s how to whip up a simple Chinese-style tofu-n-green-veg dish that’ll have you riffing your own version in no time… 😉

Flavour: Savoury & moreish

Serves: 4 as a side dish, or 2 as a main meal

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons sunflower oil
  • a few drops of sesame oil (go easy, as the flavour is strong)
  • 250g firm tofu
  • 3 tablespoons cornflour or rice flour
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 bird’s eye chilli, finely chopped – this is just to add a little pep, not to make the dish spicy
  • 1 large bunch of Asian green vegetables – choi sum, gai lan, or bok choi (the latter usually comes in smaller bunches, so use 2 if they look a tad small – don’t skimp on yer greens!)
  • 1 spring onion, finely chopped – green and white parts separated
  • 6 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (I prefer to use coconut sugar or rapadura)
  • half cup of water (you might need more, but go easy)
  • sprinkle of white pepper

Directions:

  1. Prepare your green veggies: you can choose whether to cook them whole, to separate out the leaves and cook those whole, or to cut them up – I tend to toss in whole leaves with stems intact, as this yields a nice texture variety
    • Amateur tip: I recommend against cutting your green veg really small – this won’t give you the result of a nice combination of textures
  2. Cut your tofu into chunks – I like 1-inch cubes, or 1-inch by half-inch squares – up to you how you do it
  3. Dust the tofu with half the cornflour/rice flour, making sure each piece is coated – set aside on a plate ready for frying
  4. In a small bowl, dissolve the sugar and the rest of the cornflour/rice flour in the soy sauce, add the vinegar, and set aside
  5. Heat both sunflower and sesame oil in a wok over high heat
  6. Toss in your tofu when the oil is hot so you get a quick-n-crispy fry going – this is how to get a deep-fried finish on a shallow-fried morsel 😉
    • Amateur tip: make sure you keep the tofu chunks separate to they don’t stick together, and toss them in the wok to turn them, rather than trying to flip them with a spatula
  7. Once your tofu is golden and crispy, toss in your garlic and chilli – stir-fry for one minute
  8. Toss in your green veggies, and stir-fry for 2 more minutes
  9. Add the white parts of the spring onion, and stir-fry for one more minute
  10. Stir in your soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and cornflour/rice flour mixture, and add the water gradually as the sauce thickens – you should see it turn thick and glossy very quickly – only add extra water if it thickens to the point of looking too dry, as you want it nice and saucy but not runny
  11. Take off the heat, stir through the green parts of the spring onion, sprinkle with white pepper, and transfer to a serving dish – serve immediately with piping hot white rice

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