Menu 35: Chili Tofu Stir-fry and Thai Coconut Rice

This week menu is going to be a nice twist for any vegetarian out there, since one the main ingredient being use is tofu and lots of vegetables along with some tradional Asian accompaniment.

  • Chile Tofu Stir-Fry – page 221
  • Thai Coconut Rice – page 215

Do you like tofu?  Unfortunately, on my end that will be sad no.  And believe me that I have tried to like it, but I just cannot seem to like it. Tofu or bean curd is a food made by coagulating soy milk and then pressing the resulting curds into soft white blocks.  Tofu has very little flavor or smell on its own, so it can be used either in savory or sweet dishes, and it is often seasoned or marinated to suit the dish.  In the case of this stir-fry, the combination of stock (chicken or vegetable), soy sauce and chile sauce will add the punch to this dish full of crispy vegetables.  The trick here is to make sure your saucepan (or wok if you are lucky to own one) temperature is always nice and high so the vegetables sear quickly without overcooking them.

And then we have the Thai Coconut Rice.  And if you know me and my preferences by now, you know that I probably will be over this this dish.  Coconut – YES! And Rice? DOUBLE YES!  Together – this combo is a match in heaven, but then I totally bias.  The ingredients are pretty straight forward until you get to the Kaffir Lime Leaf, or as its most known in the Asian culture “the makrut lime Leaf”.  The Makrut or Indonesian lime is a native of Thailand and Indonesia. There is not much juice in the fruit, and what little there is has a very bitter flavor and is not used in cooking, although it is considered a good hair tonic by the locals and is touted as preventing hair loss.

 In contrast to the lime we are accustomed to in North America, it is the leaf of the tree, and not its fruit that is prized by cooks for making Thai dishes. The zest is also used to a lesser extent, and is an important ingredient in red curry paste. Both the leaves and the zest contain a form of citronella which imparts the characteristic lemony-floral aroma and flavor. This beautiful scent is like an exotically perfumed room freshener.

It is likely that even a year ago you would have had a hard time finding fresh leaves, but they are quite readily available at any large Asian or Vietnamese grocery store. The difference between using dried and fresh lime leaves can best be compared to using dried Bay leaves versus fresh: there is no comparison.

Once you have found fresh leaves, freeze some for later. They will last for several months in the freezer. In fact, you can sometimes find them already frozen in the stores. The kaffir leaf is used like a Bay leaf: added whole during cooking and then removed before serving. The leaves should be bruised before adding to the pot to allow their full essence to get out.  If you are not lucky enough to find them, you can substitute with several dried. If you can=t find the leaves at all, you may substitute with regular lime zest or juice, but most of my Asian friends guarantee that you will never be able to replace exactly the perfumy note that the kaffir leaf is recognized for.

So ready to take an Asian culinary trip?  Looking forward to it!

Get set, ready, COOK!