Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Szechuan Tofu, Green Beans, and Mushrooms

While I love meal planning, there are some busy weeks where I'm scrambling at the last minute to get my plan together. In those cases, I'm often left designing my menu around what I've already bought at the farmers' market or grocery store. This also tends to be the case more often once the farmers' market bounty really blooms and I'm too inspired by the market's offerings to think of planning ahead. This week, I'm somewhere in between. The outdoor farmers' market started up again just a couple weeks ago and even though it's very early in the growing season, I can already see my culinary horizons expanding. I wish I could say the green beans were from the farmers' market already (they were just on sale at Whole Foods), but my recently-expanded local mushroom options are the locavore soul of this dish. Locally sourced though they may be, my cremini mushrooms take on an entirely different world of flavor thanks to a well-stocked pantry of Asian flavors. This sauce strikes a nice balance between salty, sweet, and spicy, glazing the crispy tofu, tender mushrooms and fresh green beans with a gentle kiss of complex flavor. Tomato paste and mushrooms add give this vegan dish a real meatiness and tossing the tofu cubes in cornstarch before frying creating a particularly pleasing texture. The perfect bowl of flavors to dive in to on a warm spring evening, this meal will only get better as the farmers' market has more ingredients to offer.

Szechuan Tofu, Green Beans, and Mushrooms
adapted from Eating Well
serves 2

1/4 cup water, divided
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon Chinkiang vinegar or balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoons sugar
1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon cornstarch, divided
Half of a 14-ounce package extra-firm tofu, drained
1 tablespoons canola oil, divided
8 ounces green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
4 ounces shiitake, cremini, or white mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
Cooked brown rice, rice noodles, or quinoa, for serving (optional)
Sriracha or other hot sauce, for serving (optional)

1. Whisk 2 tablespoons water, soy sauce, tomato paste, vinegar, sugar, crushed red pepper to taste and 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch in a small bowl. Set aside. Cut tofu into 1/2- to 3/4-inch cubes and pat dry. Toss the tofu in a bowl with the remaining tablespoon cornstarch to coat. 
2. Heat 1/2 tablespoon oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the tofu and spread out across the surface of the pan. Let cook undisturbed for about 4 minutes, or until a golden crust forms (check one or two pieces after a few minutes). Gently turn and stir. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until browned and crispy, 3 to 5 minutes more, depending on desired level of crispiness. Transfer to a plate.
3. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the pan. Add green beans, mushrooms, garlic and ginger; cook, stirring constantly, for 2 to 4 minutes. Add the remaining 1/4 cup water, cover and cook until the beans are crisp-tender and mushrooms are softened, but not mushy, 2 to 4 additional minutes. Stir the reserved soy sauce mixture and pour it over the green beans. Cook, stirring, until thickened, about 1 minute. Add the tofu and cook, stirring, until heated through, about 1 minute more. Serve warm over rice, noodles, or quinoa as a main dish, or alone as a side, dressing with Sriracha, if desired.

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