Monday, November 28, 2011

Kung Pao tofu

Kung Pao chicken is a quintessential dish in an American Sichuan-style Chinese restaurant. In the traditional method of preparation, the diced chicken is mixed with a marinade and set aside. The red chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorns are fried quickly to flavor the oil. Then the marinated chicken is stir fried with vegetables, and the peanuts are added at the end. The addition of the Sichuan peppercorns is what makes this dish authentic. They have a tongue numbing quality without giving off heat unlike the red chili peppers. I order this dish quite often when I go to a Sichuan style restaurant, but my vegetarian family are not able to try it. Hence I decided to replicate the flavors - well almost replicate - for my vegetarian family.

I have used tofu in place of chicken and have substituted the chili peppers for chili flakes. If you like heat, please feel free to replace the chili flakes with whole dried chilies. Since my daughter does not like Sichuan peppercorns, I have skipped them as well. For an authentic tasting dish please add a teaspoonful along with the chili flakes. The tofu is marinated in a simple marinade of soy sauce and rice wine and then sauteed to give it a light brown color. Then the aromatics are sauteed quickly and the tofu is added back to the pan along with the sauce to thicken the dish. Many versions of this recipe add hoisin sauce as well. I have skipped it for the vegetarian version and used brown sugar in the recipe for that molasses flavor.

The list of ingredients can be intimidating, but you will find most of them in your local grocery store. The only item that is typically not available is the dark soy sauce, for which I had to go to Chinatown. You could try the dish without it, but the rich color of the dish will be compromised.

Kung Pao Tofu

14 ounces organic firm tofu [I like the Nasoya brand]
3 gloves garlic, finely minced
Quarter size piece of ginger thinly sliced
1/2 - 1 teaspoon red chili flakes (I have cooked this dish without the chili flakes as well and it tastes great!)
6 fat scallions chopped, whites only
2 scallions julienne, green parts only
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/3 cups roasted peanuts skinned

Marinade for the tofu
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
1 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

3 teaspoons light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons water

  1. Cube the tofu and mix in the marinade ingredients. Let stand while you prepare the other ingredients.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together the ingredients for the sauce and set aside.
  3. Heat a non-stick wok or skillet with 1 tablespoon canola oil over high heat.  Add the marinated tofu and stir-fry for 3 to 4 minutes till it gets a nice light brown color. Remove and set aside. Add another tablespoon of canola oil and the garlic, ginger, and scallions, and stir-fry until fragrant. The garlic should not brown. Add back the browned tofu and pour in sauce and mix to coat the other ingredients. When the sauce is thickened and shiny, stir in peanuts. 
  4. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with the green parts of the scallions. Serve warm.
Serves 3 as part of a multi-course meal.

Note: Make it a complete meal with steamed rice and Steamed Asparagus salad  or a Chinese Eggplant Salad.

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