I'm going to tell you right now - this is a bit more labor-intensive than what I would usually make for dinner on any given Thursday, but it was just so delicious that I could see it becoming a regular in our kitchen. Maybe I can get a kid to dip cubes of tofu in sesame seeds.
I was skeptical of the recipe too. I feared the tiny seeds wouldn't stick. I thought they would just burn in the hot oil. I thought the sauce had too much hoisin, and that it probably shouldn't be there at all. I hate steamed broccoli. And it was kind of a lot of work for something that I was pretty sure wasn't going to work.
But it did. As soon as I pulled one plump little pillow of sesame encrusted tofu from the sweet tart sauce and popped it in my mouth, I was totally hooked. And I needn't have feared the still crisp broccoli.
The recipe comes from Donna Klein's new cookbook, The Chinese Vegan Kitchen. She spent a year in Hunan province, where the food is spicy and fresh, teaching English in a middle school and committing herself to learning all about Chinese home cooking. We are so fortunate that she came home and wrote a book about it.
It's an interesting book filled with unexpected recipes. I love all the pickles - chilies and carrots and cabbage and long beans. There are tons of other enticing snacks like Tibetan Potato Cabbage Momos with Cilantro Tomato Dipping Sauce. I put my sticky notes away when I got to the noodle chapter because everything there sounds like a perfect midweek meal. Oh, and obviously I'm making Saffron-Scented Coconut Rice Cakes with Sesame Seeds, right? And Yunnan-Style Tomato Jam with Chilies, Cilantro, and Mint. (Can I eat those together?) Ooh, and Caramelized Tofu with Walnuts.
I see a lot of Chinese food in our future. And you? Have you tried anything from this book? Are you a huge Donna Klein fan? (I remember a conversation in a bar with Jenn Shagrin about how much she loves Vegan Italiano, or maybe it was the Mediterranean book - it was a long time ago, but I'm leaving to go pour over all of her other recipes now that I've become a super fan.)
Sesame-Orange-Glazed Tofu Nuggets with Broccoli and Red Bell Pepper
From The Chinese Vegan Kitchen by Donna Klein. (With my notes in italics.)
Makes: 6 servings
(Takes: I'll be honest, about an hour, but totally worth it.)
- 1 pound extra-firm tofu, drained
- 1 pound fresh broccoli florets, cut into bite-size pieces
- 1 large red bell pepper (about 8 ounces), sliced into thin strips
- 1 cup orange juice, preferable fresh squeezed
- 1/2 cup water
- 3 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon Chinese chili paste, or more, to taste
- 1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons plain rice vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus additional, to taste
- 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 1 teaspoon toasted (dark) sesame oil
- 1/3 cup sesame seeds
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup peanut oil
- salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
Place the tofu on a deep-sided plate or shallow bowl. Top with a second plate and weight with a heavy can. Let stand for a minimum of 15 minutes (preferably 1 hour). Drain excess water. Cut into 1-inch cubes; set aside. (I didn't drain mine at all, but I started out with pretty firm tofu.)
Place a steamer basket in a medium stockpot filled with about 2 inches of water. Add the broccoli and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Immediately reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and steam 2 minutes. Carefully uncover and add the bell pepper; cover, and steam 4 minutes, or until all of the vegetables are just crisp tender. Uncover and let cool a few minutes. (Because I am always looking for a way to use one less pan, I had planned to just throw the raw broccoli in the skillet after the tofu cooked, but then there were some seeds and toasted flour clouding up the lingering oil in the pan that I knew were either going to deliciously flavor and thicken the sauce or burn on the broccoli and that I should really stop monkeying with her recipe and just listen to this Donna Klein and so I threw the vegetables in the steamer insert of my rice cooker on top of the cooking rice. P.S. If you put on some brown rice just before you start this recipe, everything should time out just about perfect for dinner.)
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, whisk together the orange juice, water, 1 1/2 tablespoons of the cornstarch, chili paste (I omit for the kids' sake and then pass at the table, for my sake.), soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, and salt until thoroughly blended. Bring to a brisk simmer over medium-high heat, stirring often. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, whisking constantly, until glaze bubbles and thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the hoisin sauce and sesame oil; set aside.
Line a baking sheet with a few layers of paper towels (I use a cut up brown paper bag.) and set aside. Place the sesame seeds in a small bowl. In another small bowl, combine the flour and remaining 2 tablespoons cornstarch. Roll tofu in the sesame seeds, and then in the flour mixture until well coated; set aside.
In a wok or large skillet, heat the peanut oil over medium-high heat. Add the tofu and cook, turning with a spatula every few minutes, until nicely browned on all sides, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to prepared baking sheet and season with salt and pepper. Set aside to drain a few minutes.
In the same wok (it's not necessary to wipe out), return the tofu and add the steamed vegetables, scallions, and glaze; cook over medium heat, stirring and turning often, until tofu and vegetables are thoroughly coated and heated through, about 2 minutes. Serve at once.
(Per serving) Calories 296 - Protein 11g - Total Fat 18g - Sat Fat 3g - Cholesterol 0mg - Carbohydrates 27g - Dietary Fiber 5g - Sodium 305mg