Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Orange-marinated tofu

From this week: extra firm tofu, navel oranges, broccoli

From weeks past: ginger, orange pepper

Staples: brown basmati rice, garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, vegetable oil, hot sauce

I'm a complicated gal. So when I order a grilled vegetable sandwich at a burger joint and people ask me if I'm a vegetarian, they get a complicated answer (it doesn't help that I'm a notorious over-sharer). The truth is, I'm not a vegetarian. In law school, I went vegetarian for a little while, but it didn't really stick; nothing about my politics or feelings changed, but my willpower waned. So now I just try to limit my meat intake. I don't buy meat at the grocery store or cook meat at home, and if there's anything not meaty and not dominated by tomatoes on a menu, I order it. That being said, it's hard for me to resist bacon, and if I'm ever confronted with free meat (parties, family dinners, conferences, work lunches, on the street), I take it. See? Complicated.

The biggest effect of my meat reduction (besides world-saving, of course. I'm such a good person), was the exponential expansion of my diet. I mean variety-wise, but it's probably just as accurately applied to quantity. Anyway, I now like and continuously try different veggies, legumes, grains, lentils, and, of course, tofu. Bacon aside, what I really like about meat are its accompaniments. I like the breading and honey mustard part of my chicken fingers, the spicy/sweet/sticky sauce on my kung pao chicken, and the potato strings and creamed spinach that come with my steak. Tofu is the perfect meat-free palette for sauces and spices and other meat-related goodness. Prepared improperly, it's tasteless mush. But prepared properly, it's toothy, meaty, saucy deliciousness.

Like the great Rachael Ray (I kid) once said, this is all about the method. It will work with any sauce/veggie/carb combo. The key is to get as much water out of the tofu as you can. There are several different ways to do this, some of which include cooking (baking, deep frying) before you marinate and re-cook. For some reason, that seems excessive to me. I prefer freezing or squeezing. When you freeze and then thaw tofu, a lot of the water leeks out and you're left with a holey flavor-sponge. But for those, like me, who don't often plan meals ahead, squeezing makes more sense. Rather than lazing in the freezer overnight, the tofu sits under a weight between layers of paper towel and oozes lots of its liquid in 30 minutes. Even 5 or 10 minutes works wonders. This is after an hour; see how much more holey?

Then, just marinate and pan fry. So yeah, it's a little more involved than cutting up a boneless skinless breast, but it has so much more potential for tastiness. And you know, complication can be a good thing...

Orange Tofu serves 4
1 block extra firm tofu
juice of 2 medium oranges (about 1/2 cup)
1 tbsp orange zest
1 inch piece of ginger, grated or finely minced
2 cloves garlic, grated or finely minced
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp vegetable oil plus more for cooking
1 tsp hot sauce or chili paste
1 head broccoli
1 orange pepper

Slice tofu into quarter- to half-inch sheets. Place sheets on four layers of paper towels, top with four more layers of paper towels, and top with a flat, heavy object (I like to do a cutting board with a heavy frying pan on top). Let sit for as long as you can, anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour or two, changing the paper towels if they get saturated. Cut into the shape of your choice.

In a bowl, mix orange juice, orange zest, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, oils, and hot sauce/chili paste. Put tofu and sauce in a ziploc bag. Marinate for as long as you can, anywhere from 30 minutes to 24 hours (if it's more than an hour or two, put the bag in the fridge).

When you're about done marinating, stir fry veggies in 1 tbsp vegetable or olive oil. Remove from pan and set aside. Add a few more tablespoons of oil to the pan. Place tofu in a single layer in the pan (do it in more than one batch if you have to), reserving marinade. Brown on one side, about five minutes, then flip and brown on the other side. Add to vegetables. Turn heat down to low, add remaining marinade and cook for a minute or two, until slightly reduced. Pour over tofu and vegetables. Serve over brown basmati rice, cooked according to package instructions.

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