It was one of those days when I needed a clone–you know, someone to do the cooking while I did everything else that had to be done. Since science has yet to reach the point of providing me free kitchen help, I reached into my cabinet and pulled out the next best thing: The Crockpot.
I rarely plan far enough in advance to use the crockpot, but for those times when I know I’ll be busy doing other things right before dinnertime, the crockpot is a must. The trouble yesterday was that my family had had their fill of the usual crockpot fare–soups and stews–and were ready for something else. Besides, the crazy Mississippi weather was playing one of its frequent tricks on us by going from chilly soup weather to nearly 90, so it just wasn’t the day for cozy comfort food. “Wouldn’t it be great,” I thought, “if you could make Chinese food in the crockpot.” I just had to give it a try.
Actually, a crockpot is perfect for tofu. Slow cooking in sauce infuses the tofu with flavor and, since the sauce is thick and the tofu is dried slightly by pan-frying first, its texture is firm and not mushy. The vegetables are added at the end of the cooking so that they do not disintegrate. I used a large, oval crockpot for this, but I think it would probably work better in a smaller one, so don’t be afraid to try it in one of the traditional-sized slow cookers. For some other cooking options, see the end of the recipe.
Chinese Barbecued Tofu and Vegetables
- 1 14-ounce package extra-firm tofu not silken tofu
- 1 small onion minced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 2 teaspoons fresh ginger root minced
- 8 ounces no salt added tomato sauce
- 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
- 2 tablespoons seasoned rice wine vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon vegan Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 2 teaspoons molasses
- 1/4 teaspoon five spice powder
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
- salt to taste optional
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2-3 stalks broccoli stalks only; reserve florets for another use
- 2 medium zucchini cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1/2 large red or green bell pepper cut into 1-inch squares
- 1 8-ounce can sliced water chestnuts
Cut the tofu into 1/2-inch thick slices. Place them on a few paper towels and cover them with 2 or 3 more. Press lightly to remove some of the moisture from the tofu. Cut the slices into triangles or other shapes.
Heat a non-stick skillet until hot, and place the tofu slices in it. Brown well on both sides. When they are done, place them in a crockpot that has been sprayed with non-stick spray. (If you avoid all oil, try lining the crockpot with parchment paper.) Set the crockpot to high heat and cover.
Using the same skillet, sauté the onions, garlic, and ginger until the onion softens, about 3 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and heat, stirring, until bubbly. Pour the sauce over the tofu and stir well to combine. Replace the cover and cook on high for 3 hours.
Prepare the broccoli stalks by trimming off the tough ends and peeling off the outer skin. Slice into 1/4-inch thick rounds. After the tofu has cooked for 3 hours, add the broccoli and other vegetables. Stir well to combine and cover tightly. Cook for about 1 more hour. Vegetables should be tender but not over-cooked. Serve over brown rice. Makes 3-4 servings.
Cooking options: If you need to cook the tofu for a longer time, set the cooker on low and add 2 or 3 more tablespoons of water to the sauce. Cook for about 5-6 hours before adding the vegetables. Turn the heat up to high once the veggies are added. Note: This is not a good option for larger crockpots because the volume of food is too low.
To cook this in the oven, preheat to 375 F and put the tofu and sauce into a non-metal baking dish coated with cooking spray. Cook for 30 minutes before adding the vegetables. Cover and cook for about 15 more minutes, until vegetables are just tender. Try using frozen and defrosted tofu and skip the pan-frying.