I will admit, right here and now, that I’ve never been a fan of tofu. In all my years I’d yet to find a preparation that seemed particularly appealing. An excellent source of protein, sure, a humane alternative to meat, poultry, and seafood, indeed, so I’ve eaten it now and again with that dutiful sense of sacrificing pleasure for dull nutrition. But then…. Then I found a stir-fry recipe concocted by Robin Robertson.
It seemed, as I read through the ingredient list, like any other stir-fry. Nothing particularly inventive or unusual, nothing that ordinarily would make me look twice. And yet look twice I did. Still nothing unusual, still nothing particularly enticing. But for a reason that I can’t quite grasp, I decided to try it. (With several alterations. I just can’t help myself.) And I was stunned with the result.
Broccoli and tofu, and not much else besides. But somehow the combination of the scant ingredients worked perfectly. The fried tofu seemed dense and almost meaty, the broccoli freshly bright. Both glazed with soy sauce that was edged with spicy heat. Playing off against that savory duo, the Thai basil seemed nearly sweet, especially when enhanced by the sprinkling of coconut. So good, so simple, so inexpensively easy. This stir-fry is cooking alchemy at its finest.
And, to convey just how good it is, Paulo, my most beloved carnivore, my grill-master extraordinaire, loved the stir-fry, ate seconds, left the wok bereft of trace remnants. He said, yes he did, that he happily would eat the stir-fry every week from now on. As recommendations go, I can’t think of a better one than that.
Spicy Thai Stir-Fry
1 lb broccoli florets
3 T oil
12 oz tofu, well-drained, cut into 1/2″ cubes
1 T sesame oil
4 medium shallots, thinly sliced
1 bird’s eye chile (or other very hot chile), thinly sliced crosswise
1 T fresh ginger, grated
3 T soy sauce
3/4 cup Thai basil leaves
unsweetened shredded coconut (optional)
Steam the broccoli until crisp-tender. Drain well and set aside. (If you are using thawed frozen florets, you can skip that step. Simply use as is.) Heat 2 T oil in a wok over medium-high heat. When the oil is very hot, add half of the tofu. Fry, stirring frequently, until golden brown all over, about 5 minutes, sprinkling with a little salt in the process. Remove the tofu, leaving the oil behind. Fry the other half of the tofu, sprinkling with salt, and remove from the wok.
Add the other 1 T oil, along with the sesame oil, to the wok. When hot, add the shallots, chile, and ginger. Stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the broccoli and soy sauce, stir to combine, then add the tofu. Heat through, another few minutes. Stir in the basil and remove from the heat.
Serve over rice with the coconut sprinkled on top.