Even though I am not a vegetarian, I have been craving non-meat sources of protein all winter. This was my latest invention which blends the flavors of China, Vietnam, and Thailand into one dish. It is savory, a little spicy, and has just a little bit of sweetness to bring harmony to the flavors.
This is full of protein, calcium and is low in carbs. If you use olive oil or another healthy oil this dish becomes a good source of mono and poly-unsaturated fats. Serve with fresh steamed veg on the side to up your veggie quota or serve over brown rice to make this a heartier meal. (note: This recipe is not completely vegetarian because it does use fish sauce.)
The secret to the flavor in this dish is to use toasted rice powder, which you can find at most Asian markets. If you are having trouble finding the powder, look in the tea isle and you will likely find toasted rice kernels for use in tea or matcha. If you get the whole toasted rice you can make your own powder in a spice grinder. Another ingredient that is sometimes hard to find is dark soy sauce. It is thick, and has little flavor but makes the minced tofu take on a look that is more meat like and appealing to a larger audience. Use the firmest tofu you can find if you wish it to have a consistency that more closely mimics ground meat. Fish sauce varies greatly from brand to brand I use the one pictured below, but any Thai or Vietnamese brand should do well. Chili oil can be found in almost all Asian markets and in a lot of Western stores these days.
One last note is that many of these sauces vary greatly in flavor and saltiness depending on the brand and variety. The amounts I’ve used below are guidelines. If you’re not sure add the lesser amount and then give it a taste. Add more as needed. The only one to be careful of is the fish sauce. It tastes very different raw vs cooked. If you have used too little fish sauce and your dish is not salty enough just make note of it for next time you make this dish and add a little salt or regular soy sauce for now. Adding raw fish sauce at the last minute can be a great way to ruin an otherwise good dish. Raw fish sauce can be used to great success without being cooked, but it tends to have a much fishier smell and flavor. Used raw it is usually watered down and then has lots of garlic, ginger and sugar added to it. When you cook it, like in this dish, you won’t even be able to taste any fish flavor.
- 2 Tbs olive oil, divided
- 1 large american shallot (or 3 to 4 of the small asian variety) – sliced thin
- 3 cloves of garlic – roughly minced
- 1 tsp chili oil
- 1x 12 to 16 oz. tub of extra firm tofu – drained
- 1.5 to 2 Tbs fish sauce
- 1 to 2 tsp dark soy sauce
- 2 tsp granulated palm sugar (you can sub brown sugar or raw sugar)
- 1/8tsp to 1 tsp hot chili flakes or powder (depends on if you want it mild or kick-your-ass hot)
- 1 to 2 Tbs toasted rice powder
- 10 to 15 stalks of cilantro – washed and roughly chopped
- small hand full of mint leaves – removed from stem, washed and roughly chopped
- Slice the block of tofo into sheets about 1/4 inch thick or thinner. Slice those sheets into matchsticks about 1/4 inch thick and then cube them into small pieces. Prep all the rest of your veggies and lay them out so you can get to them easily. Put all your sauces within hand’s reach of your skillet/wok. Measure them out ahead of time if you don’t feel confident in adding them by eye. This cooking method is fast and you want everything ready before you start cooking.
- Add about 1/2 of a tablespoon of the olive oil to a hot frying pan. Immediately add the sliced shallots and keep them moving until the just start to take on some color. Add the garlic and cook until everything has started to soften and takes on some caramel notes. Remove the onions and garlic from the pan and set aside.
- Add the rest of the olive oil and the chili oil to the pan and return it to your heat source. When the oil gets medium hot but no where near smoking, remove the pan from heat and add the fish sauce. Return it to the heat and let it cook and reduce for 30 seconds or a little longer, constantly stirring so nothing burns on the pan. Add the dark soy sauce, sugar, and chili flakes. Stir quickly until it is mixed together and then add the minced tofu. Stir constantly to coat and then add the toasted rice powder and remove from heat. Stir several more times until everything is well mixed.
- Once the pan has cooled but the food is still very warm add in the chopped cilantro and mint. Toss.
- Serve over lettuce or cabbage cups or serve as a stir fry over rice or noodles. Enjoy!