Friday, February 20, 2009

Tofu and Broccoli in Black Bean Sauce

Some smart cook once said that if you don't like something, you should figure out a way to prepare it so that even you will eat it.

I've never been all that crazy about tofu. Not that I have anything against it, exactly, I'm just not a big fan. Nevertheless, I've been trying to eat more of it lately, for a number of reasons that I won't go on about right now. My husband is even less enthusiastic than I am about tofu, but he's being a good sport and eating along. (My son, on the other hand, loves it and that's one reason that I'm using it more...but then I said I wasn't going to get into that. Oops).

Most of the tofu that shows up on my table appears in Korean dishes such as kimchee chigae (a kind of soup/stew) or soy sauce braised tofu. In a pinch, I give it to my hungry toddler to eat as is, straight from the package. We've eaten enough of the stuff that I now have an idea of how to prepare it so that we'll all enjoy it - even if my hubby doesn't exactly shout "Hooray, it's tofu night!" when I tell him what's for dinner. I made this recipe tonight in an attempt to branch out into other tofu dishes. It's based on a recipe for chicken and asparagus in black bean sauce, from an old Sunset Magazine cookbook on Chinese food.

I first met fermented soybeans (aka the black beans in black bean sauce) through a roommate when I was in grad school. Fermented soybeans are small, dark, and smelly; my roomie taught me to store them in a sealed glass jar in the refrigerator. In small doses, however, they make a mighty tasty sauce when smashed up with a little garlic and soy sauce.

Back in those grad school days, when I first started trying to cook Asian food, I made dishes in black bean sauce a lot. As my repertoire expanded into Thai, Indian, and Korean the realities of limited storage space pushed those beans out of my refrigerator - I just didn't use them often enough to justify their tying up prime real estate. I got thinking about fermented soybeans again, though, when a friend asked for recipes that use tofu, and I picked up a jar of black bean sauce with garlic. A few days later, with bean sauce on hand and tofu and broccoli needing to be used, I tried out the following dish. It turned out tasty enough that I'm even willing to post it here.

This was quick, easy and because there are so few ingredients, prep work was fast. Get your rice cooker started just before you start heating the wok, and dinner will be ready in 20 minutes. You can substitute other green vegetables, such as asparagus or zucchini, for the broccoli. You can also substitute chicken for the tofu, since that was the original recipe, but then you won't be eating tofu now will you. If you want to be a purist and not use a purchased black bean sauce, smash 2 tablespoons of fermented black soybeans with ~1/2 teaspoon of minced garlic, a pinch of salt and add an extra tablespoon or so of soy sauce.

(A note: there are no pictures to go with this post for a reason. I am learning that I am not a particularly good food photographer. This is bad news, because one of the great things about blogging is that you can show all these wonderful pictures...assuming that you have the necessary skills to get wonderful pictures of your food. I'd rather that you have to use your imagination than look at a less-than-appetizing photo of my recipes).

A few tablespoons of sesame oil (or peanut oil, or whatever you have on hand)
1 small onion (or 1/2 of a large onion)
4 fresh shitake mushrooms (or ~1 cup of any fresh mushroom), sliced
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth, or water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
14 oz firm tofu, cut into cubes
1 small head of broccoli, cut into florets
1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1-2 tablespoons of water

1. Cut the root and stem ends off of the onion. Cut the onion in half and then slice it into thin strips.

2. Heat a wok over high heat and add a tablespoon of sesame oil. Swirl the oil around in the wok to coat the surface.

3. Add the sliced onion to the wok and stir-fry until the onion starts to soften or "wilt."

4. Add the mushrooms to the wok and stir-fry until they soften and begin to shrink (they may give off some liquid, but if the heat is high enough this will evaporate quickly).

5. Take the wok off of the heat and let it cool for a moment, then add the broth and soy sauce. Add the tofu and black bean sauce and gently stir so that all of the tofu is partially submerged in the liquid. Return the wok to the burner and bring the broth to a boil. Turn down the heat a bit and simmer for 5 minutes.

6. Arrange the broccoli on top of the tofu and simmer for another 5 minutes, or until the broccoli is partially cooked. (You can cover the wok to help steam the broccoli but it's not absolutely necessary).

7. Stir very gently to combine everything (a big spatula works well to turn the ingredients over, without breaking up the tofu) and simmer another minute or two.

8. Add the cornstarch-water and stir gently again to combine everything. Stir one or two more times as the sauce thickens.

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