I know I’m not the only one eating less meat these days. I’m not a vegetarian (and probably never will be) but today I crossed a line. There’s no going back now. It’s rather embarrassing to admit, but this was my first time cooking with tofu. I KNOW. But wait! Before you hit “send” on that hate mail, please don’t get the wrong idea. I’ve never been a flag-waving member of the carnivorous denomination known to proudly and lustily consume animal flesh on a daily basis. Ok, so I did go through a wee bit of a steakhouse phase when I first moved to Chicago, but doesn’t that just go along with the whole locavore movement? Embracing the cornucopia of beef varieties native to the Midwest region as one might embrace, say, maple syrup in New England?
Back to my tofu story. I just never really saw the point in cooking with tofu. So obsessed am I with cooking with vegetables that I always felt that tofu was just… dead weight. Not to mention that all of life is a trade off, you choose this over that, don’t you? And so I felt that tofu would take up valuable recipe real estate. Tofu would, inevitably, replace far more deserving, flavorful ingredient candidates. I cringed to think that the vibrance of a sweet potato in the winter or the assertiveness of an eggplant in the summer would lose its rightful place in a dish to a spongy block of white stuff floating about in murky water, unappetizingly packaged in a plastic sarcophagus, and evoking traumatic childhood memories of Lunchables.
Not to mention, as a fervent devote of beans for all of my non-meat day protein needs, spreading the bean gospel with the gusto of a missionary, I also, logically, did not have a need for tofu. I have a naughty habit of ordering heirloom beans from all corners of the country and so have enough dried-up protein in my cupboard to last me for a good season or two. Oh, and then Michael Pollan of all people turned me off of tofu even further when he reminded us that the Japanese originally intended for soy to be used as more of a condiment, not a main foodstuff. Read: consume in small quantities.
Alas, I surrender. The white flag is raised. It sure does soak up the flavors of curry nicely. And I’m actually starting to crave it’s spongy texture, which grew on me much like the morning breath of your significant other might. Oh yes, and it is c-h-e-a-p. Here’s to you, tofu.
Thai Green Curry with Tofu & Bok Choy
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, tightly packed
3 tablespoons ginger, chopped
3 teaspoons cumin
3 teaspoons coriander
10 garlic cloves
3 serrano chiles, all but half of one seeded (increase or decrease in accordance with your love of fire)
3 shallots, chopped
1 big head of broccoli, chopped into florets (about 4-5 cups)
2 baby bok choy, chopped horizontally into 3/4″ slices (about 3 cups)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
4 teaspoons raw cane sugar
1 tablespoon shoyu sauce (or soy sauce)
1 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
3 kaffir lime leaves (Whole Foods sells these in a jar)
13.5 oz can light coconut milk
14 oz package water-packed organic firm tofu, drained and cut into 3/4″ cubes
a generous 1/4 cup freshly-squeezed lime juice
chopped fresh basil
chopped fresh mint
brown rice, for serving
1.) Make the curry paste. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Set aside.
2.) Cook the vegetables. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the broccoli, and cook for 2-3 minutes; until bright green and still crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Return the water to a boil and add the bok choy. Cook for 1 minute. You are now done with the cooking water and can drain the pot’s contents into a colander to remove the bok choy. Set bok choy aside.
3.) Heat oil in a large Dutch Oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add curry paste and saute for 1 minute, stirring briskly. Add sugar, shoyu, salt, lime leaves, and coconut milk. Bring to a boil. Add tofu, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook, covered, for 5-6 minutes; until thickened slightly. This curry tastes better the longer it sits as the flavors mellow and weave together beautifully. If you have the luxury of preparing it the day before, pop it in the fridge and enjoy the following day. Serve with brown rice