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    Happy 2019! It's a new year--time for a restorative. Me? Bok choy broth with tofu for lunch. The purple tinge is not your hangover talking to you--I added purple and gold "black" carrots to the bowl and it got a little Rose Parade on me.

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    Copyright 2008-2019Slow Food Fast. All writing and images on this blog unless otherwise attributed or set in quotes are the sole property of Slow Food Fast. Please contact DebbieN via the comments form for permissions before reprinting or reproducing any of the material on this blog.

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Microwave Tricks: 10-Minute Tofu

Microwaved platter of low-sodium tofu with snow peas

Microwaved tofu platter in minutes, minus the big oil and salt overload of takeout. I’ve used snow peas and shiitake mushrooms this time, but you could use any greens you like and mix them up–bok choy, broccoli, green beans. Frozen snow or sugar snap peas work too.

This is the recipe I meant to put in the last post about reducing sodium in Chinese food.

Tofu is, as everyone knows by now, extremely versatile. It’s vegetarian, it’s shapeable, it’s mild but satisfying in flavor, it comes in a variety of textures and thicknesses, and it’s quick to cook–fried, steamed, stuffed, crumbled–or to eat cold. It’s also low-fat, low-sodium, nearly carb-free, and relatively high in protein, with some iron and calcium too. And it’s very inexpensive–less than $2 for a 14-oz. pad of tofu at the supermarket, about three or four servings’ worth.

When it’s hideously hot out, as it was much of September here in Pasadena, you can marinate a sliced cold block of silken tofu by pouring a jao tze-style dipping sauce over it maybe half an hour, garnish with scallion shreds or crushed toasted nuts, and serve it as an appetizer. Or eat firm tofu plain and cold, if you like it. Or throw some tofu cubes into a salad with cabbage, lightly-steamed (or microwaved) fresh brussels sprouts, scallions and halved hard-boiled eggs, and drizzle peanut sauce over it.

Or you can decide there’s no way you’re going to stand over a stove with a frying pan, but you’d like a proper cooked dinner that resembles kung pao or ma po tofu with some greens, just not doused in heavy greasy oversalted sauce or requiring a run to your local takeout, and it would be nice if it were very quick. Very quick. Like five minutes tops. And that it didn’t involve the stove at all.

When my daughter decided she wanted to be vegetarian a couple of years ago, I discovered that you can “quick-press” tofu for Hunan tofu in about 4-5 minutes for a standard 14-19 oz. pad by cutting it up, standing the pieces on a microwaveable dinner plate, and microwaving, then draining off the liquid. Then it’s ready to stir-fry and it’ll brown decently. But I’ve done it so often in the past two years that my daughter’s kind of tired of it now (and has also gone back to eating fish and chicken once in a while). But we still like tofu. And with 100-degree days filling so much of September, there was just no way I was going to stand at the stove. So….

The entirely microwaveable tofu dish below is my daughter’s current preference, because the tofu cubes are softer, steamed in the microwave in a thin sauce rather than browned, and the scallions never scorch. And it’s not bad at all, and it takes, if not a literal 5 minutes, maybe about 10, start to finish.

This is more of a technique than a recipe, really, because you can use whatever cookable greens you have and like–fresh broccoli with the stalks, green beans, bok choy, etc. are pretty classic and generally not expensive per pound, but I’m not against using frozen unsalted (store brand; I’m cheap) sugar snap peas or green beans if the fresh ones are out of season. You’re microwaving; it’ll work out, and you won’t overcook the tofu. Continue reading

Bok Choy Broth

Bok choy-based hot and sour soup

Bok choy-based hot and sour

Usually when I get home from traveling I’m in a state where I don’t really want to cook, but I want real food, and I’m sick of the bread-and-cheese-sticks-and-carrots-and-nuts we bring on the plane in self-defense.  The other thing I really want right away is vegetabalia–restaurants, particularly hotel restaurants, seem reluctant to put any on the plate. Microwaved fresh vegetable soup is an easy and satisfying answer–15 minutes and you don’t have to go shopping for anything fancy.

It’s also the answer when it’s cold and rainy and everyone in the house has been down with the crud (aka “Losangelitis”). Today, I wanted something with greens in it like minestrone, but tasting more like hot and sour soup, to cut through the fog that had condensed in my head, and I did NOT want to work hard (also because of said mental/temporal fog). I had the basics for a vegetable broth–an onion, some celery stalks, a handful or so of “baby cut” carrots  more usually reserved for my daughter’s school lunches. A fat clove of garlic. Half a bunch of bok choy that was still in decent shape from two days ago when I microwaved it as a side to stretch leftover Chinese takeout. And in the cupboard, miraculously, I still had three dried shiitake mushrooms in a plastic bag.

Bok choy is one of the Cheap Vegetables ™–usually below a dollar a pound, even in big-chain supermarkets. Not baby bok choy, which is cute and pretty and mild; stores charge three times as much for that. I like the full-grown, poetically dark-leaved, white-stalked bok choy, the kind sumi-e masters choose for their still lives.

Sometimes for a vegetable at dinner (as mentioned above) I just nuke a cleaned and trimmed head of bok choy whole for a couple of minutes in a longish lidded container with a little water in the bottom, cut it up and serve it as-is or drizzled with a little soy sauce and sesame oil. You don’t need anything else to dress it up (and of course, I have pretty low standards for presentation). Its fresh, radishy flavor mellows into something richer and more aromatic as it cooks down and produces its pale-green pot liquor. You don’t want to waste that; it’s a perfect addition to a vegetarian consommé, especially when you’re going light on salt or calories.

I sometimes even skip the onion-carrot-celery-garlic vegetable stock base and make a really simple broth by just microwaving the bok choy all by itself with water to cover–especially when my head and stomach aren’t cooperating with me or with anything else. But that’s a little on the purist side of things, when I’m feeling so miserable all I want is something hot, clean-tasting and fresh with no distractions. For better times, I want a real soup with a bit more richness and variety, and bok choy definitely plays well with others.

Back to the hot-and-sour scenario, for example:

Shiitake mushrooms are expensive fresh at your local Whole Foods, about $13/lb. But a package of 15 or so dried caps sells for $3.50 in the Asian or International Foods section of your local supermarket, and the dried mushrooms are so much better for infusing a broth with pungent richness. They’re easiest to soak up in a microwave–a few minutes rather than half an hour.

Between those and the carrot-onion-celery aromatics, plus of course garlic, you’re set. Especially if you have a little container of z’khug (hot pepper-garlic-cilantro paste) in the freezer and can saw off a chunk to spice up your soup. Toasted sesame oil, vinegar, and low-sodium soy sauce–all optional. Ginger? You could. Ginseng? According to a friend from a Cantonese family, only if your mother insists. Continue reading

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