Tofu never impressed me. It doesn’t look like it has much flavor. The texture looks weird. It’s “health food.” I eat meat, so I have never needed it for protein. It was easy to avoid, so I did. When the reaction from people who do eat it always seems to be “it’s alright, it tastes like whatever it’s cooked with” I never saw any reason to stop avoiding it. Tofu and me? Strangers. I was fine with that.
I have a favorite food truck that is parked a couple blocks from my office. It serves sandwiches (they admit they are not totally “authentic” banh mi, but they are really delicious) rice bowls and noodle salads. They are all so good. And it is cheap. Like $6 cheap (plus an additional $2 for the deviled tea egg that I have to get EVERY TIME and am trying my damndest to replicate. Stay tuned.) So I was eating there a lot. They offer a couple of different meat/topping options, one of which is tofu and shiitake mushroom, and there was one week that I ate there a couple of times and was starting to feel guilty about pork (my typical fave) for lunch three times in one week, so I decided to go healthy and try the tofu and shitake. And then I doubled down on the health and got brown rice. I know. I don’t know what happened. I figured the worst that could happen was that I wasted six bones and had to get something else. But I suspect you know where this is going…I liked it. And I didn’t just like it a little. I actually liked it. I liked the texture, I liked how it soaked up the flavor of what it was cooked in, I even liked the taste of the actual tofu! I have gotten it again! More than once! So there you go.
Buying lunch every day is expensive though, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. My complaint about their tofu/mushroom combo is not enough mushrooms, so I decided when I made it myself I was adding more mushrooms. Also eggplant because it is delicious and I love it.
So what to serve it over? I had white rice, glass noodles, and farro in the cabinet. Farro is having it’s day, man…I am not sure why it has suddenly been discovered, because it is certainly not a new invention. And I am sure there are plenty of people who have been eating it for years that think the recent “discovery” is hilarious, but whatever…put a sock in it farro-ites, nobody likes a know-it-all…but it is the new big thing, and it is very healthy and I succumbed to the allure and bought some from one of the bins at Whole Foods, but then it just sat and sat in the cupboard looking forlorn. Until now. It was time for it to shine.
And so there you have the winding round-about anatomy of this dish. I went looking for a good blueprint for my stir-fry, and came across pretty much exactly what I was going for in a recipe from Mark Bittman. I modified it a bit and I love the results. Not surprising at all, since Mark Bittman is the best. NY Times food section people…make it a part of your life.
This recipe takes a little bit of easy prep. I used dried shiitakes and had to soak them first. (I actually often prefer the dried to the fresh because I like the chewiness and they crisp right up when cooked, this is one of those times for sure.) I pressed the tofu for about an hour, and I cut and salted the eggplant about 20-30 minutes to remove the bitterness before I was ready to cook. But the cooking part was easy and pretty quick. Shiitakes into the wok first with salt and pepper. They get brown and a little crisp, and then come out of the wok, to be replaced with ginger, garlic and eggplant. This is the longest part of the cooking, as the eggplant needs to get nice and tender. Once that happens, the tofu gets added, and then the shiitakes go back in at the end. That’s it! The only liquid is some of the shiitake soaking liquid that gets added partway through the eggplant cooking time, and soy sauce and rice wine with the tofu. This is not super saucy, and honestly, if I eat it over farro again, I may try to adjust that a little, because it’s a little drier than rice or noodles would be. But it was still delicious. Lack of sauce didn’t stop me from eating every bite. So there you go! Tofu and me…BFFs.
Also, since I’ve mentioned my new apartment which I absolutely love a couple of times…a preview.
I love it. I have big plans for the decor, still to come, but I love it.
It’s nice to be back home in blog-land…
Eggplant Tofu and Shiitake Stir-fry over Farro (serves 2)
adapted from Mark Bittman
1 cup farro
2-3 tbl grapeseed or other neutral oil for cooking.
10-12 dried shiitakes, soaked in just barely boiling water, until softened – soaking water reserved, mushrooms sliced thin
1/2 lb extra firm tofu, pressed and drained, and cut in a 1/2 inch dice (I pressed the tofu in a colander with an appetizer plate and two cans of beans…seems to have gotten the job done.)
1 large Japanese eggplant, cut in 1/2 inch dice and salted for 20 minutes
1 tbl minced fresh ginger
1 tbl minced garlic
2 tbl soy sauce (plus extra for drizzle at the end if you’d like)
1 tbl Chinese rice wine
salt and pepper to taste
1-2 Scallions, green parts sliced for garnish
Cook farro according to the package instructions until cooked through.
Meanwhile, heat one tablespoon of the oil over medium high heat in a wok or saute pan. Add mushrooms and cook until they start to get brown and crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the rest of the oil to the pan and when it gets hot, add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring for a minute until the mixture starts to sizzle and smell delicious. Add the eggplant and cook, stirring frequently, until the eggplant starts to caramelize. Add 1/4 cup of the shiitake soaking liquid and continue to cook, stirring often, until the eggplant is tender and cooked through, 5-10 more minutes. (You may need to add a bit more of the liquid if the pan gets too dry.) When the eggplant is cooked through, add the tofu, soy sauce and rice wine and cook for 4-5 more minutes until the tofu is warmed through. Add the shiitakes back in, and you are finished! Serve over farro and garnish with scallions (and sriracha for spice if you’re feeling it) and enjoy your healthy deliciousness! (This can obviously be served over rice or noodles or just about anything you’d like…)