Greetings and happy Monday! Before we eat, I wanted to make sure it was clear that these “Three Things” newsletters are the 2021 incarnation of my “Pantry, Project, Purpose” series from 2020. Same content, different name, hopefully very different year. Thanks for following along. If you’re not a subscriber yet and would like to explore your options, you can do that right here.
Thanks for coming. Here’s today’s trilogy…
1. A Weeknight Tofu Stir-Fry
Please do not skip over this one if you’re “not a tofu person.” That was me for the longest time! The key to my conversion was perfecting crispy tofu. And by crispy, I mean a lot of things: I can get a good golden-brown edge on my tofu when I toss 1/2-inch cubes in soy sauce, cornstarch, and oil and bake at 425° for 20 minutes. Or even from a good pan-sear if there’s a hot pan and enough oil. But the holy grail of crispy tofu, for my kids at least, is golden-fried, like you see here in Hsiao-Ching Chou’s simple Seared Tofu with Baby Bok Choy, which calls for dredging the soy-sauce-drizzled tofu in corn starch before frying. This method is not new to me (or probably you) but I realized something that I probably should’ve realized a long time ago: The cut of the tofu makes a big difference when you’re dredging. For starters, I’d do anything to minimize touching squeaky-dry corn starch (insert shivering gif here) so the larger the piece, the fewer the pieces to dredge. Next the size of Hsiao-Ching’s triangle cut is just right — large enough to minimize the dredge work, but small enough to still maintain its crispy-chewiness when cooked. Anyway, I loved this recipe, and there are many many more where it came from in Hsiao-Ching’s new book, Vegetarian Chinese Soul Food. Please consider checking it out.
Seared Tofu with Baby Bok Choy
From Vegetarian Chinese Soul Food, by Hsiao-Ching Chou
Note from Hsiao-Ching Chou: While I use baby bok choy in this recipe, you can opt for your choice of greens, such as gai lan, yu choy, spinach, or Chinese cabbage.
About 7 ounces medium or firm tofu (half a standard block), cut into 1⁄2-inch-thick slices, then each square cut in half diagonally to create triangles
2 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
1⁄3 cup cornstarch, for dredging
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
3 cups sliced baby bok choy, about 1⁄2 inch thick
1⁄2 cup brown beech mushrooms or enoki mushrooms (Note from Jenny: I used cremini because that’s what I had)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped 1⁄2 cup water
1⁄4 teaspoon sesame oil
Place the tofu in a shallow dish and drizzle 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce over the pieces. Carefully turn the tofu a few times to coat with the soy sauce. Put the cornstarch in another shallow dish or plate. Dredge the tofu with the cornstarch, making sure the tofu pieces are evenly coated. In a medium skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil over medium-low heat for about 1 minute. Place the tofu in the skillet, placing as many as will fit in the pan without overcrowding. Sear 1 to 2 minutes on each side, or until richly browned. Place the tofu on a clean plate. Repeat with any remaining tofu. Set aside.
Preheat a wok over high heat until wisps of smoke rise from the surface. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon vegetable oil and heat until it starts to shimmer. Add the bok choy and stir for 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms and garlic. Stir for a few seconds to combine. Add the water and stir to combine. Add the tofu and the remaining 1 tablespoon soy sauce, stirring carefully to combine. Reduce the heat to medium low and let simmer for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the sauce is slightly thickened. Finish with sesame oil.
Reprinted with permission. Photo credit: Clare Barboza
2. A Pizza Dough Trick
It wasn’t until late afternoon on Sunday that we decided we wanted, no needed, to make the iconic Sullivan Street Bakery potato pizza for dinner. There was a problem, though: It was too late to make a pizza dough from scratch, and the only dough we had was a 16-ounce ball in the freezer, hard as a rock. So we did what we always do when we have a pizza question: We texted our friend Anthony Terranova, who also happens to be President of the legendary Arthur-Avenue-based Terranova Bakery. (Sometimes I can’t believe how lucky I am.) He told us to place the frozen dough in a plastic ziploc in a bowl of warm water and to keep replenishing the water to make sure it stayed warm. It thawed in about an hour and guess what was on the table by 7:00!? A perfect pizza.
3. A New Magazine: For the Culture
The first issue of cookbook author Klancy Miller’s much-anticipated venture, For the Culture: A magazine celebrating Black women and femmes in food and wine, is here! And the 96-page journal is nothing if not ambitious: There are pandemic check-ins with NY Times’s “Still Processing” host Jenna Wortham, Kitchenista blogger Angela Davis, and James Beard Award-winning culinary historian Dr. Jessica B. Harris. Omolola Olateju writes about her experience as a restaurant server (“racism has been wedged into almost every interaction of service from beginning to end”); a few pages later, she teaches us about the roots of Red drinks and how Kool-Aid (Kool-Aid!) and Big Red Soda are direct descendants of traditional hibiscus drinks from the Caribbean and West Africa. My favorite essay was by Amethyst Ganaway, who writes about the inevitability of becoming a food professional after growing up in North Charleston, SC “sharing and passing down the history of the family and folks who came before me.” (Bonus: She also includes her recipe for pickled eggs.) You can order Issue #1: It’s Personal + The Pandemic here and follow For the Culture on instagram for updates.
See you in a few days!