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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Broccoli and Tofu Lo Mein






Now that our local Costco is carrying tofu at a very reasonable price, I have been experimenting with it in more dishes. One success has been using tofu as a substitute for eggs in things like breakfast burritos, but my early attempts at adding cubes of it to stir fries were not as good as I would have liked. Until recently, the best approach I had found was freezing the tofu, taking it from the freezer, defrosting and then squeezing it dry before adding it to whatever I was trying to make. The problem with this approach, however, requires more advance planning than I often allow for. So I kept hunting for ideas and finally found a few websites that suggested draining the tofu, then baking the cubes or strips, then letting them dry a bit more as they cool before adding to whatever sauce may be part of the final dish. While this still took more time than just putting drained tofu in with the rest of the ingredients, it has proven to be an excellent way to get the tofu to absorb more of the seasoning ingredients.

I am blessed with children and grandchildren who are very open to trying all kinds of food, and a family favorite dish at many of the East Asian restaurants in town is broccoli and tofu lo mein, so this seemed like a good place to experiment. The oven was on anyway (homemade cinnamon rolls!) so why not give the process a try?

The test turned out beautifully, and it was easy to bake up two pounds of tofu at once, with the excess put in a well-sealed container in the refrigerator for more meals later in the week. My guess is that it could also be frozen, but I haven't tested that yet.

After the tofu was baked, I was able to put this meal together in less than 20 minutes. How? First, by using Chinese mei (lo mein) noodles. These are an incredibly fast approach for pasta, as most Chinese noodles require little water to cook and usually are done in 5 to 7 minutes or less. If you don't have a good source for these, fettuccine could be substituted, but with a bit more cooking time.

I also took advantage of one of my favorite time-saving tricks this week, cooking a large batch of onions and mushrooms that could be refrigerated for a week of widely varying meals. The Variation following the main recipe provides information on how I used this "convenience food."

Finally, I used frozen broccoli pieces instead of fresh. I long ago learned that having a good supply of frozen vegetables (no sauces, not the "steam-able" packages, just 12 to 16 oz bags of peas, broccoli, California mix, whatever) provides a great resource at the end of a hectic day. 

And, now that I know this baked tofu takes up so well the flavors of whatever it will be added to, I'll be making some of that ahead for a busy night's meal too.


Broccoli and Tofu Lo Mein

olive oil
1/2 small onion, diced or cut in long strips
2 to 3 ounces sliced mushrooms
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 c soy sauce
1 T grated ginger root
1 T brown sugar, or to taste
1 T cornstarch

8 oz firm tofu, cubed and baked
water as needed
8 to 10 oz frozen chopped broccoli


4 oz lo mein noodles

1.  Bake tofu as noted below and set aside.

2.  Combine the soy sauce, ginger, brown sugar, and cornstarch and stir well with a whisk or fork until the cornstarch is smoothly blended. Pour over the tofu, making sure all the tofu is well covered.

3. Meanwhile, saute the onion, mushrooms, and garlic in a small amount of olive oil, cooking over medium high heat until the onion is translucent and beginning to soften.

 
4.  Stir in the tofu, making sure all the pieces are coated with the sauce. If necessary, add a small amount of water to be sure the sauce covers all the vegetables and tofu.

5.  Add the broccoli, stir to coat, and continue cooking on medium until the broccoli is fully cooked (5 to 12 minutes, depending on whether it was thawed or completely frozen).

6.  Meanwhile, prepare the lo mein noodles according to package directions. Stir into the broccoli and tofu and taste, adjusting seasoning as needed.  Continue to simmer a few minutes to blend the flavors.

If desired, this can be served with Sriracha or other hot sauce. For those preferring a sweeter dish, serve with Teriyaki sauce.

Variations
  • Other vegetables can be substituted for or combined with the broccoli--cauliflower, French cut green beans, carrot slices, bell pepper strips, zucchini, even asparagus are all possible choices.
  • If pre-sauteed onions and mushrooms are used, just measure a half cup and substitute this mixture for the ingredients in step 2.
  • Instead of the brown sugar and water, substitute about a quarter cup of pineapple juice, adding more as needed for proper consistency.




Baked Tofu

16 oz firm or extra firm tofu

1.  Remove the tofu from package and drain well.
2.  Place  the four blocks in a single layer in the bottom of a large colander and put a heavy pan or bowl on top of the tofu. Allow to drain for several minutes, pressing down occasionally to remove as much liquid as possible. (I have some plain white cotton towels that I like to wrap the tofu in while doing this. The towels absorb more liquid than when I just squeeze the tofu alone. While paper towels could be used, they can sometimes stick to the tofu.)
3. Cut the tofu in cubes or strips, depending on your preference, and spread on a nonstick or lightly oiled cookie sheet.
4.  Bake at 375 to 400 degrees for about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and turn each piece. Return to oven and bake another 20 minutes or so, until the tofu is beginning to turn golden brown around the edges.
5.  Remove from oven and allow to set (and dry a little more) for at least 15 minutes.



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