Fried tofu with bok choy and baby corn
As I mentioned in my last post, Chinese New Year is rapidly approaching and it’s something I celebrate every year. Why? Well, that’s a very good question.
I grew up in a small town of about 50,000 people – ok, not TOO small, but small enough. According to the 2000 US census, there were 0.26% Chinese people living in the city then. So, I’m guessing that number was even smaller in the mid 70s when my family became friends with maybe the only Chinese family in town.
I wasn’t much more than 6 the first time we all went to their first restaurant, located in what was then the Meriden Mall.
I can remember thinking how special and exotic it felt. The whole place was decorated in traditional Chinese style, with unusual decorations, enormous paintings on the walls, and dark furniture. And then, of course, there were the owners and workers – the hostess, the waiter, the cooks – all of them Chinese.
I was the same age as their son, and we were both the youngest in our respective families. However, it was our older sisters and brothers who became friends first. I still have this vivid memory of my grandfather driving them to school and me tagging along for the ride now and then. They were in high school, I was still just a kid.
It wasn’t until some years later, when us two young boys grew up a bit and went to high school, that I really started turning Chinese, but that part of the story will have to wait until next week – I think we need to move onto the food!
I said I was just a kid then, but to be honest I’m still just a kid. But the adult in me, loves green vegetables! I love broccoli, sprouts, asparagus and bok choy (or pak choi, bok choi, pak choy… no one can make up their minds about how to spell it in English). If you’ve never tried it before, don’t let the name “Chinese cabbage” confuse you – it has a wonderful, mild flavor with tender leaves and crisp and crunchy stalks. It’s also easy to cook in a variety of different ways. For this recipe I used baby bok choy, which is, as you can guess, smaller, and also a little more delicate than it’s big brother.
And it seems like bok choy is more than just great-tasting. I always do a bit of research when I write, and I just discovered that in a 2014 study done by the US Center for Disease Control, bok choy scored 2nd in nutrient density among 41 so-called powerhouse fruits and vegetables. It beat out spinach, kale, sweet potato and, well, 36 others. (Watercress came first.)
I also love tofu. I know that for some folks it takes some getting used to, so I thought I’d introduce you to firm, fried tofu first. Those who are a little skeptical of the texture of tofu have probably tried the soft, wet, silken tofu. Extra firm tofu, especially with a golden, fried surface – is something else altogether.
While most people are probably used to eating Chinese food with rice, I decided to make rice noodles for this dish – just to mix it up a bit. Because of that, the timing was a bit more important for me, but in general, this is a quick and easy dish. Most of these ingredients should be available in well-stocked supermarkets, but if you have a Chinese supermarket nearby, I can totally recommend having a look there. Now it’s time to wok! 🙂
- 2 Tbsps (30 ml) - sesame oil
- 14 ozs. (400 grams) - fried tofu
- 2 cloves - garlic minced
- 1 in. (2.5 cm) - ginger, peeled and grated
- 14 ozs. (400 g) - bok choy, separate leaves from stalks
- 8 oz. (225 g) - baby corn
- 2 Tbsps (30 ml) - vegetarian wok sauce (this is like veggie/vegan oyster sauce)
- 2 tsps (10 ml) - black bean paste
- 1 Tbsp (15 ml) - soy sauce
- 1 tsp (5 ml) - Chinese Five Spice (optional)
- 1 Tbsp (15 ml) - water (if needed when stir frying)
- ½ Tbsp (5.5 ml) - corn starch, mixed with 1 Tbsps (15 ml) - water
- 4 springs onions, chopped, for garnish
- Start to cook your rice or boil your noodles. Start with step #2 when there is 10 minutes remaining.
- Heat sesame oil in a frying pan/wok and sauté garlic and ginger until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
- Add the fried tofu and fry for 4 minutes – you want them to get a little color, so you don’t have to constantly stir yet.
- Add baby corn and stir fry for 2 more minutes.
- Add bok choy stems, cook for 2 more minutes. (You might need, or want, to add just a splash of water here if the pan is getting too hot.)
- Add the leaves, wok sauce, black bean paste and soy sauce. Stir and cook just until the leaves have wilted, about 1-2 minutes.
- Turn off heat, add the water/cornstarch, stir to coat everything with sauce and serve immediately, over noodles or rice, sprinkling some fresh, chopped spring onions on top.