There’s a new Thai restaurant in town, and the first couple of times I ate there I had mixed feelings. While it was so much better than the other local Thai restaurant, I wasn’t quite satisfied with its take on dishes that I’ve liked in Thai places in other parts of the country. (This is just my opinion–D absolutely loves the place and often eats lunch there without me.) Then one night I was studying the menu with such a worried expression, determined to try something new, that the waitress took pity on me and told me what to order: Black Pepper and Garlic Tofu. After a couple of questions to make sure that there was no fish sauce in it and that it contained vegetables in addition to the tofu, I ordered it and fell in love.
I’m not sure why I love this simple dish–peppery cubes of tofu atop vegetables that have the lightest of sauces–but I do, so much so that I became determined to make it myself at home, with a good bit less fat than the restaurant’s version. Instead of frying the tofu, I bake it; instead of stir-frying the vegetables in oil, I steam-fry them. Steam-frying is a little trickier than frying because it requires frequently covering and uncovering the wok and adding liquid as needed, and if you’re not careful, you can burn, overcook, or under-cook the vegetables. But if you time it just right, you can get the same tender-crisp vegetables as a traditional stir-fry, with a whole lot less fat and fewer calories.
- 1 14 ounce package extra-firm tofu
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce (or gluten-free tamari)
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2 large cloves garlic, pressed
- 1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- 1 small onion, halved and sliced into thin wedges
- 1 large bell pepper, sliced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
- 3 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced
- 8 ounces kale (about 1 bunch), stems removed and leaves thinly sliced
- 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
- additional broth or water, as needed
- Cut the tofu into 1/2-inch slices. Gently press each slice between paper towels to remove some of the moisture. Then cut each slice into rectangles. Place into a ziplock bag. Combine tofu seasoning in a small bowl and pour over tofu. Seal bag and gently turn it over until tofu is completely covered in seasoning. (You can do this ahead of time and allow the tofu to marinate for a stronger flavor, but it’s not mandatory.)
- Preheat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet or dish with parchment paper. (A silicon mat will also work, but parchment on a rimmed metal baking sheet yields the crispiest tofu with no sticking.) Place the tofu on the parchment in a single layer along with the marinade. Bake for 15 minutes. Turn gently and bake for another 15 minutes. Remove from oven.
- While the tofu is cooking, chop all the vegetables and combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl. About 10 minutes before tofu is done, preheat a large, deep non-stick skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Spray or rub it with oil if you wish, but this is optional. Have about a half cup of water or broth standing by. Add the onion and cook for a couple of minutes until it begins to become translucent. Add a tablespoon of water or broth if it starts to stick. Add the bell pepper and stir-fry for another minute. Then add the garlic and mushrooms and cook another two minutes, adding liquid by the tablespoon if needed.
- Stir in the kale, add about 2 tablespoons of liquid, and cover quickly. After a minute, stir and add liquid if necessary. Cook covered for another minute and then add the asparagus and a little more liquid. Cover and cook until asparagus is tender-crisp, about 2 minutes. Add the sauce and cook until it is heated through. Serve the vegetables with tofu on top, or stir the tofu into the vegetables and serve over rice or pasta.
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