Saturday, December 6, 2008

Red Pepper, Broccoli and Tofu Stir-Fry

I was at a conference this week which included surprisingly delicious meals. One night we had a buffet dinner in a gymnasium but the spread was amazing. There was a meat carving station, pasta bar, sweet potato bar (served in martini glasses with nuts, coconut and raisin toppings), smoked salmon station, boiled egg ‘Santas’ and French pastries. There was also a ‘sushi’ station which I put in quotation marks because it was California rolls served with ‘condiments’ that you took with a spoon including ‘wasabi’ sauce, soy sauce and ginger. I remarked to a friend that the Japanese would probably be appalled with what we’ve done to their cuisine. As I thought more about it, I realized that many dishes or cooking techniques that originate in other parts of the world have changed drastically in this country. I am as guilty of this as anyone else.

This week I’m featuring an American version of stir-fry which is significantly different from its Chinese origin. The term stir-fry was coined by Chinese American physician B.Y. Chao in her notable book How to Cook and Eat in Chinese. The goal of stir-frying is to impart wok hei (Cantonese) or wok chi or qi (Mandarin) – the ‘essence’ of the wok on the food. Stir-frying requires very high temperatures and cold oil with a high smoke point (such as peanut oil or lard).

There are two traditional stir-fry methods. In the chao technique, oil, ginger and garlic are added, followed closely by meat which is seared by rapid and quick tossing. The meat is then removed and vegetables and liquids are added. The wok is covered briefly to steam the vegetables (if there are large pieces of meat they may be re-introduced and steamed as well). In the other technique, bao, the oil, seasonings and meat are put in together and tossed continually. Vegetables may be added later but they too are continually tossed. The ingredients are usually cut into smaller pieces so they can be cooked without steaming.

While my dish may be more accurately described as sautéed vegetables and tofu, I’m going to stick with stir-fry – the American version.

Serves 4-6

3 tablespoons canola or corn oil
1 teaspoons sesame oil
1 block extra firm tofu (10 to 16 ounces), cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder
black pepper freshly ground, to taste
2 teaspoons garlic (minced or paste)
1 red pepper, cut into bite-size pieces
1 head broccoli, cut into florets
1 can water chestnuts, drained
1/3 cup spicy stir-fry sauce (I use House of Tsang)

1. In a large skillet on medium heat, add 2 tablespoons canola/corn oil and 1/2 teaspoon of sesame oil.
2. Place all tofu pieces in skillet (with largest surface area down) and season with chilli powder and black pepper. Sauté until light brown on one side which will take about 10 minutes. Flip all tofu pieces so the opposite side is facing down. Sauté for a further 10 minutes. The tofu is done when it appears pockmarked on its surface. Set aside.
3. Add the remaining oils and sauté garlic for 30 seconds.
4. Sauté red pepper for 2-3 minutes. Add water chestnuts and broccoli and sauté until broccoli is bright green (about 2 minutes).
5. Add stir-fry sauce and heat for a further 2 minutes.
6. Remove from heat and serve with rice or couscous.


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