Monday, November 29, 2010

Tofu Batons and Pea Shoots

I've mentioned Beyond the Great Wall by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid in a previous post. I love this book. Not only does it give some wonderful insights into the less-commonly known ethnicities of China, but a great many of the recipes are inherently gluten-free and require little to no modification at all.

There were a few recipes I'd been itching to try since getting hold of the book. The Tofu Batons with Hot Sesame Dressing was one of them. It looked easy and as it turned out, it -was- easy to put together but I ran into problems with overly soggy tofu batons as per following the recipe's instructions to put them into boiling water, submerge, and cover for 30 minutes. A lot of it turned into mush, not all of which could be dried out even with a good hot frying in the wok.

I was skeptical of taste, given the dressing was rather mouth-puckeringly sour when I put it together. Once it was poured over the tofu batons however, the combination mellowed out the sharpness into something amazingly comforting and smooth. Fantastic. I'd definitely make this again, but I think I'll be soaking the batons in cold water for 30 minutes instead of boiling them. It should help with the sogginess problem.

The other recipe that I'd been dying to try out was the Pea Tendril salad, except pea tendrils proved remarkably elusive. It wasn't until yesterday that I got hold of 2 packs of pea shoots (the recipe wanted the tougher pea tendrils, but I'd only seen those in a vegetable shop near my workplace - and that was 2 hours and 2 buses to get to, so I just went with pea shoots instead.) Given this is me, I accidentally changed the recipe through misreading the instructions, of course. The recipe called for frying the shallots till they were pale to medium brown; I just fried them till they were translucent and soft. Then again, I never really liked crispy shallots, so I think I liked the end product a lot better.

This is a tart, salty salad with very sharp, clean flavours. I thought it might be too tart for my liking, but I was surprised to find that it was pretty addictive - I kept going back for seconds and thirds till I finished half the plate all on my own. Yep, definitely another keeper.

Tofu Batons with Hot Sesame Dressing
from Beyond the Great Wall by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

Serves: 4

3 ounces tofu sticks (4-6 sticks)
1 tbls peanut oil
1 tsp roasted sesame oil
1/2 tsp chile pepper flakes, or to taste
1 tbls rice vinegar, or to taste
2 tbls gluten-free soy sauce, or to taste
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 cup coriander leaves

Bring 2 inches of water to boil in a medium pot. Add the tofu sticks, breaking them if necessary to make them fit, and use a wooden spoon to push them under the surface of the water. Turn off the heat. Weight down the sticks with a plate that fits inside the pot to keep them submerged. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes.

Remove the plate and drain the tofu well. Cut the sticks into 2-inch lengths, trimming off and discarding any tough bits. Cut the sticks lengthwise into half or into quarters, to make narrow batons. Set aside.

Heat a wok or wide heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the peanut oil and sesame oil. When the oil is hot, add the chile flakes and tofu batons, and stir-fry for 2 minutes, stirring and pressing on the batons to expose them to the hot surface of the pan.

In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, gluten-free soy sauce, and sugar, and whisk well, then pour over the tofu batons. Stir-fry briefly to distribute the flavours, then bring the liquid to a boil Immediately lower the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes.

Turn out into a wide shallow bowl. Taste and add a little more gluten-free soy sauce or vinegar if you wish. Sprinkle on the coriander leaves and serve warm, or at room temperature.

Next time I'd soak the tofu batons in cold water and just leave them to sit for 30 minutes instead. Less soggy that way. Also, I didn't have coriander so I used sliced green onions, and it tasted just fine. No chile flakes either, all I had was Japanese red pepper, so I used that.

Pea Shoot Salad
Adapted from Pea Tendril Salad in Beyond the Great Wall by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

Serves: 4 as a salad or side dish

1 lb pea shoots

2 tbls rice vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp roasted sesame oil
2 tbls peanut oil or vegetable oil
3 thinly sliced shallots

Wash the pea shoots well, drain, and set aside.

Place the vinegar, the 1 tsp salt and the sesame oil in a small cup and stir well; set aside.

In a large pot, bring 3 quarts salted water to a boil. Toss in the pea shoots and stir to immerse them in the water. Cook for 3 minutes, or until just tender to the bite - because pea shoots vary considerably in terms of toughness, the cooking time may vary a little. Drain thoroughly in a colander and refresh briefly under cold water, then drain and press out excess water. If the pea shoots are very long, cut them into about 1 inch lengths so that they will be easier to eat. I didn't bother, with mine. Press out the excess liquid again.

Place the pea shoots on a wide serving plate. Stir the sesame oil dressing again, pour it over the shoots, and toss gently to coat.

Place a wok or heavy skillet over high heat. When it is hot, add the peanut or vegetable oil and swirl gently, then add the sliced shallows, lower the heat to medium-high and fry until the shallots are translucent and soft. Use chopsticks or cooking spatula to keep the shallots moving so they don't burn. Take the pan off the heat and pour the oil and shallots over the pea shoots. Add a dash of cayenne pepper to taste.

Toss the shallots, pepper and pea shoots well, then serve.

I misread the directions and wound up tossing all the oils together for the dressing, rather than saving the peanut oil for the shallots later. This resulted in me having to add about half a tablespoon extra oil into the frying pan. It was perhaps a bit greasier, end result, but still just as good. The original called for frying the shallots till pale or medium brown, but I don't like them that way so much. This way, I think they're sweeter and still maintain their lovely purple colour.


  1. But... but... that looks like TUNA! Hehe. Looks delish, actually. :)

  2. It does look like tuna, now you mention - except it doesn't have the texture of tuna. I've made vegan tuna with kacang kuda though, and it came out really well!

  3. I think if it were to be tuna-ish, the texture would matter more than the taste cos if one wanted to go vegan/vegetarian, it's kinda counter-productive to continue to crave for meatier flavours and appearances in mock meat vegy foods. :P

    Delish is delish, whatever it looks like hehe.