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Friday, May 30, 2014

A Quick Vegetarian Supper



I've posted so many dessert and cookie recipes lately, this site is starting to seem out of balance...at least to me, since my preference is still for the more savory/veggie parts of the meal.

 While the rest of my garden is still more in the planning than growing stage, my tiny patch of asparagus is flourishing. This spear grew from nothing to a length too great for my camera in two days! (I didn't have a ruler handy so put the full sized dinner fork next to it for a sense of the size.)




Time for something with asparagus for sure. That said, I have to admit that I am still learning to like asparagus while all those around me others speak of their joy at finding these bright green spears at the farmers market, in their backyards, or even--as it was when I was growing up in the rural Midwest--along back country roadsides, ready for the eagle-eyed harvester to spot the wild clumps.


I have learned that a spear cut fresh from the garden and washed gently can be a great raw snack, but I still find that mixing asparagus into other dishes is a way to lessen that very distinctive flavor. Even if you enjoy the flavor, the dish in today's post can also stretch your supply.


The vegetables

Looking in the refrigerator revealed both a good variety of vegetables that immediately suggested a stir fry. This recipe reflects what was available right now. However, check out the variations for ideas on what you might want to add, based on what you have on hand.

Notice that I used sliced broccoli stems. This is one of those frugal ideas that can really stretch your budget and add some new texture to your vegetable dishes. When prepared in this way, the stems will often be mistaken for water chestnuts, at a much lower cost. If the stems on your broccoli are a little fibrous, you can peel them and still make use of what you might have formerly discarded. (And in our markets, buying the full broccoli head is usually quite a bit less per pound than the pre-cut flowerettes.)


The pan

As you can see in these photos, I use just an ordinary cast iron skillet for stir-frying. It heats well and is increasingly more non-stick the more I use it. Though I probably will never include it in a picture, I use a very old, very battered, pizza pan as a cover for those few minutes when a little moist cooking finishes the hardest of vegetables, without their losing their overall crispness.


Now for the tofu

I am still learning to cook with tofu; I used the "firm" kind today, but I think extra firm would have resulted in better looking pieces. I have also had better success in getting out the liquid by freezing the tofu and then thawing, but I didn't have time for that today.

Even after squeezing the liquid out, this cooked up with the consistency of firm scrambled eggs--and in fact, I think you might find the egg variation below worth trying if you don't ordinarily buy tofu. As you can see, my cutting into cubes also wasn't really "professional," but don't toss the crumbles; just stir them in with the more perfect pieces.

Oh, and "quick?

A stir fry supper can really be quick, even if it seems like there is way too much preparation to bother with. Since I have cut so many hundreds (thousands?) of onions in my life, I can peel and dice an onion in less than a minute. If you still need to take more time, you can always use some frozen onions--as well as frozen peppers and even broccoli flowerettes instead of the stems. Just have baby carrots? Cut some of these in half instead of taking the time to slice a carrot or two.

If you make the recipe as given below, you will probably find that the total preparation (even the squeezing of the tofu) will take just about as much time as cooking the rice--"regular," white rice, not instant that is. Total time elapsed even without any pre-prepped veggies was less than 25 minutes. Yes, there is a little more "kitchen time" than would be required with a frozen entree that needs 25 minutes to cook, but the cost is less, and the amount of "unwanted" ingredients that entree includes? Not at all included here.


Stir-fried Spring Vegetables with Tofu (Vegan)

olive oil; oil flavored with garlic or herbs is especially good here
4 oz firm or extra firm tofu, well-drained
1 to 2 T teriyaki sauce, or to taste
1 small to medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 to 2 c bell peppers, diced (if using mini-peppers, cut in rings for a nice appearance)
2 c broccoli stems, thinly sliced
1 c carrots, sliced
2 or 3 spears asparagus, diagonally cut into 2 inch chunks
1/2 t dried basil
1/2 t dried marjoram
seasoning salt to taste

1.  Remove the tofu from the liquid in which it came and place on a flat dinner plate. Put a doubled paper towel on top and then place a heavy pan on it, pressing down to remove as much liquid as possible. I pour off the liquid as I press it and then leave the pan on top while chopping the vegetables, occasionally giving the pan another push. Cut the tofu into about 1 inch cubes.

2.  Heat the olive oil over medium high to high heat until a bit of the tofu dropped into it sizzles. Add the drained tofu to the pan and saute for 3 to 4 minutes, until the bottom is quite golden brown. The less you turn it, the more it will hold its shape. Turn the pieces and brown the second side; you will probably need only a couple of minutes for the second side.Remove the tofu from the pan, sprinkle generously with the teriyaki sauce, and set aside.

3. Add the onions, broccoli, and carrots to the pan (along with a bit more oil only if needed), cover lightly, and cook at medium high heat until the broccoli and carrots are just beginning to soften. Stir occasionally, perhaps adding a teaspoon or so of water at times to keep the vegetables from getting too brown before they are done.Depending on how thinly you have sliced the broccoli and carrots, this step should take only about 5 to 8 minutes.



4.  When the first vegetables are almost cooked, add the pepper rings and asparagus, along with the basil and marjoram. Add a few more drops of water, stir, and cover the pan, cooking just long enough for the asparagus to tenderize slightly. Stir in the tofu, including the sauce that will now have formed with the teriyaki sauce, and taste, adding salt or seasoning salt as needed. Heat just long enough to re-warm the tofu.

Serve with rice or any of the far eastern noodles now available in many stores. Makes about two servings.

Variations:

The amounts and varieties of vegetables here are just what I had on hand today. You might want to add in sliced mushrooms, peas, celery, shredded cabbage, edamame, cauliflower, etc. If your family doesn't care much for peppers, cut back this amount (or eliminate entirely).

In the same way, you may choose to use a different blend of herbs and seasonings--maybe some cilantro and cumin, with corn stirred into the mix. If you choose to go this route, substitute a drizzle of taco sauce for the teriyaki sauce on the tofu.

If using frozen vegetables for any of the fresh ones here, no need to thaw. Just toss them in as called for in the basic recipe.

Scrambled Eggs and Vegetables (Vegetarian but Not Vegan)

The eggs in this version will end up much like the egg that is sometimes found in "fried rice" served at many Chinese restaurants. Prepare the eggs as noted below and then add them to the vegetables just a minute or two before serving.

2 to 3 eggs, beaten
oil enough to cover the base of the pan

1.  Using a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat until a drop of water or small piece of bread sizzles. Stir in the beaten eggs. (The pan should be large enough that the egg mixture will cover the bottom quite thinly. For this many eggs, I'd use at least a 10 inch skillet.)

2.  Allow the eggs to cook without stirring for about 2 to 3 minutes. When  the edges begin to look set, carefully turn the eggs with a spatula, keeping them as intact as possible. This is NOT the time to be stirring them!

3.  Turn off the burner and allow the eggs to finish cooking on the second side, until they are very firm. When slightly cooled, cut into about 1 inch pieces. Add the eggs to your stir-fried vegetables just before serving. Avoid stirring too much, to avoid the pieces from breaking into tiny crumbles.





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