The holidays are upon us and to get ready for the onslaught of eating and drinking, I take some preventative measures. Basically, I try to lose a little weight and eat healthy foods in advance of the irresistible carb and fat laden fare. That means eating less meat and more veggies.
One of my favorite meat substitutes is pressed tofu. Viet cooks typically deep-fry tofu for use in vegetarian dishes. But for my low-calorie purposes these days, pressed tofu – made by pressing firm tofu until it is dense like cooked chicken breast – is a better option. Pressed tofu is sold at Chinese markets, health food markets, and specialty grocers (e.g., Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s). Look for pressed tofu, sometimes called “baked tofu” in cryovac packages or in bulk (at Chinese markets only). Slice it thinly and eat it raw, put it into sandwiches, or do a simple stir-fry like this one that combines the mild flavor and chewy texture of the tofu with the assertive, crunchy qualities of Chinese celery.
Pressed tofu buying tips:
- Cryovac or bulk? Buy the stuff in cryovac as it keeps longer. AFC is a widely distributed brand.
- White or brown variety? Select the brown variety, which has been cooked with soy sauce and often times, five-spice powder. It has a lovely meaty flavor. The white pressed tofu is kinda uneventful and too rubber band like. Health food stores carry flavored pressed tofu like teriyaki but I generally stick to the basic flavor at Asian markets.
- Soft, medium (regular) or hard? Either soft or regular is texturally nicer than the hard kind (too rubbery).
Pressed Tofu Stir-Fried with Chinese Celery
This is nothing but my riff on a Vietnamese favorite, beef stir-fried with Chinese celery. Purchase Chinese celery at Asian markets. Aim for fresh, bright green bunches that nice fragrance. Chinese celery resembles long, super skinny regular celery. There are many leaves like flat-leaf parsley; use it within 2 days of purchase. If you don’t have Chinese celery, use regular celery, thinly slicing it; blend in some celery leaves (try a 1:4 ratio) for a strong celery flavor. This is a vegan preparation but you can certainly combine fish sauce and soy sauce in the seasonings for the tofu.
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Generous 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons chile oil (use flakes, if present) or chile garlic sauce
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons light (regular) soy sauce
1 to 2 teaspoons sesame oil
3 squares of brown pressed tofu, thinly sliced (about 1/8 inch thick)
1 bunch Chinese celery (about 3/4 pound)
2 tablespoons canola or peanut oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1. In a bowl, combine the sugar, pepper, chile oil, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Taste and adjust the flavors for a salty-sweet-spicy-nutty finish. When satisfied, add the pressed tofu and toss to coat well. Set aside.
2. Trim the celery of its root ends. Snap off about half of the large leafy tops. Then cut the stems into 2-inch lengths. Put into a colander and rinse under lots of cold water to remove dirt and other bits. Rinse and then drain thoroughly. Set aside.
3. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and stir-fry for about 15 seconds, until fragrant. Add the tofu and toss to combine. Let the ingredients sear for 15 seconds or so before flipping and stir-frying for about 30 seconds to heat through. Transfer to a plate.
Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and then stir-fry the Chinese celery for about 3 minutes, until softened a bit and about one-third of the original volume. Add the tofu back, combine, and stir-fry for 30 to 45 seconds more to heat through. Taste and adjust the flavors (perhaps a sprinkling of salt or sugar), and then transfer to a serving plate. Serve with lots of rice.