Garlic-Orange Tofu and Peanut Cucumbers with Rice

When I glance out the window this morning, it looks like it’s raining. But I look again and it’s still ash. We’ve been raining ash for the last couple days as the air quality went from clear blue skies over Labor Day weekend to a dramatic sweep of heavy smoke on Monday evening as several fast-moving forest fires have been burning in the cascade mountains and now closer near the edge of town to our east. Our hens have been out foraging as usual but I worry about their little lungs. Our teenage kitten, a truly needed and lovely new addition this summer, has been upset at the eery light the last couple of days.

I’ve been back to morning meditation lately first thing before I get out of bed or turn on the light, and this morning’s had me expressing gratitude for our air purifiers, those ‘noise machines’ that I have routinely tsk-tsked since William insisted on them in the last couple years. And also gratitude for a safe home. The alarm of LEVEL 3–GET OUT NOW evacuation alerts going off on my phone throughout yesterday afternoon for the northeast edge of the city, truly a ways off from us but too close for comfort, brought that gratitude home.

Today at least we got a sunrise, smoky as it was. Yesterday was just a dark red Apocalyptic haze, which is becoming the norm in Western Oregon in the last 36 hours.

We can still smell the smoke inside even with a couple good air purifiers so I’ve been adding turmeric to all my meals, taking or eating extra vitamin C and vitamin E-rich foods (hazelnuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, leafy greens), and adding tulsi / holy basil, and licorice and marshmallow roots to my tea blend. The first three are taken with the idea of combatting the oxidative stress that comes with particularly toxic wildfire smoke particles. If I had a particularly vitamin-C rich food or herb on hand such as amla fruit powder, camu camu powder, or rose hips, I’d use that instead of just plain supplemental vitamin C. The last two roots of marshmallow and licorice are for soothing irritated internal tissues, such as the lungs and digestive lining. Even though I’m staying inside and out of the terrible air, this stuff is incredibly potent. Turmeric particularly helps my smoke headaches.

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While I’ve been meaning to share more about digestive health in this space over the next few days—since this is an area that my previous survey indicated is definitely a need. But first, I think we can all use a really good meal that’s refreshing, comforting, and enjoyable while summer is still here.

I know many individuals avoid tofu because they’re unsure of how to prepare it, or when they’ve tried to in the past the texture is all wrong. I was there for a long time (probably 10 years since I first attempted tofu until I was comfortable cooking / eating it). So I’ve outlined a little more detailed way to prepare it. This is my go-to method and yields the texture we prefer.

Then the tofu is paired with finely chopped cucumbers tossed and marinated in the same dressing as the tofu is marinated and cooked in, and enjoyed with simple brown rice. The result is a simple concept but the taste is truly rich and incredible. Hope you’re staying safe in whatever way where you are, and if you tend to avoid tofu because you’re unsure how to cook it, give this recipe a try.

Garlic-Orange Tofu and Cucumbers with Rice, serves 4
inspired by Anna Jones in the The Modern Cook’s Year

16 oz. / 453 grams firm tofu, drained

dressing:
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 Tbs. reduced-sodium tamari
2 Tbs. brown rice vinegar or raw apple cider vinegar
1 Tbs. toasted sesame oil
1 Tbs. honey or maple syrup
a pinch of red pepper flakes
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
¼ tsp. ground coriander
the zest and juice of 1 unwaxed/organic orange

1 cup / 190 grams brown rice
2 cups / 470 ml water
1 ¼ lb. / 600 grams / ~4 cucumbers
a few pinches of salt
¼ cup /35 grams peanuts, toasted
a small handful of fresh basil, minced

  • Slice the block of tofu in half lengthwise, wrap in paper towels like a birthday gift, and then stack the wrapped tofu between two cutting boards. If you have something heavy in your kitchen, put it on top of your cutting board as a weight. (I use my giant Shakespeare textbook). Leave to press out the liquid for about 30 minutes.
  • While the tofu is pressing, whisk together the dressing ingredients.
  • When the 30 minutes is up, unwrap the tofu and slice it into equal size cubes (I get about 48), and combine it with 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the dressing in a container with a leak-proof lid. With the lid on, give it a few shakes to immerse in the dressing and then chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes and up to a day. More time will allow for more flavor to develop.
  • Once the tofu has marinated, turn it and its dressing onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees F for about 40 minutes, flipping it over halfway through.
  • After the tofu goes in the oven, cook the rice in a medium pot on the stovetop. Add 2 cups of water, 1 cup of brown rice (ideally pre-soaked but simply rinsed and drained if not), and bring the pot to a boil. Once it boils, turn down to a simmer, cover, and cook undisturbed for 40 minutes.
  • While the rice and tofu are cooking away, dice the cucumbers into small (~1-cm) pieces. Place the slices in a colander that’s over a sink or another bowl, and sprinkle and toss through a few pinches of salt. Set aside for 15 to 20 minutes to release some of their liquid.
  • Then take your (clean) hands or a clean kitchen towel and press the cucumbers to remove any extra liquid that may have been released. Put the cucumber in a bowl and add ¼ to 1/3 cup of the remaining dressing. Add more to taste. Scatter over and stir through the toasted peanuts.
  • Once the tofu and rice timers are done, remove them both from the heat and serve with the marinated cucumbers. Sprinkle atop some fresh minced basil leaves if desired.  

Asian Tofu Tacos with Miso-Lime Sliced Greens

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I dropped into my co-op the other evening to pick up a few items for the week, one of which was the tofu for these tacos. But the store had experienced two power outages in the hours before, and being small and without a generator, they had to pull most of the chilled items from the shelves, one of which was the tofu.

Back in the bulk section stocking up on other items, I realized they did still have tofu in bulk, however, and as I pulled a big wedge out of its liquid and slid it into a container, I thought oh you’re a real hippy now, even buying your tofu in bulk. There was an equal mixture of horror and pride in projecting what all the folks back home in conservative cattle country would think of me now, mixed all in with my saving the planet one eco-friendly practice at a time tendencies.

 

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And then, just as soon as all those conflicting thoughts went through my head, a line from a recent book (and I even forget which one) streamed through:

Drop your story. Drop whatever story you’re telling about or to yourself, and don’t pick another one up. 

And that’s where I stopped. And focused on re-filling my spice jars and getting more sesame oil. I think it’s all around better we all just drop our internal narratives and big talk/thinking about who we are and generally try to focus on the task at hand. Wouldn’t you say?

That’s my intention today anyway. What is yours?

 

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Asian Tofu Tacos with Miso-Lime Sliced Greens, serves 4
Originally inspired by Sara Forte in her first cookbook, and before-then inspired by her experience at an LA taco truck, the flavors in these tacos will truly welcome in this transitioning season. Crunchy Asian pears, tofu with ALL THE FLAVOR, and a slightly sweet, miso, lime + ginger dressing infused through the sliced greens, this is definitely a special occasion taco recipe. Make it to impress your friends. Or drastically upgrade your regular taco night.
For the greens, use collards, kale, a nice crunchy cabbage, or whatever you have on hand. Collards are a great choice if you don’t often use them, however, as they are sturdy, hold up to the heat and cold of the seasons, making them available nearly year round, and they are one of the plant kingdom’s best sources of bio-available calcium, meaning you’ll both ingest and absorb it–an advantage that’s not true of all the calcium-rich greens. 

 

1 lb. firm tofu, use organic/gmo-free/local if you can
for the tofu marinade:
2 cloves garlic, minced
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, finely grated
1 1/2 Tbs. toasted sesame oil
2 Tbs. apple cider or brown rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 Tbs. tamari
1 tsp. hot sauce ( I used a homemade green tabasco style)

for the sliced greens dressing:
1 Tbs. yellow miso
1 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, finely minced
1 tsp. maple syrup
2 Tbs. untoasted sesame oil
2 Tbs. fresh lime juice
2 tsp. hot sauce

4 cups thinly sliced collard greens, kale, or cabbage
1-2 watermelon or regular radishes, optional
corn tortillas
1 Asian pear, sliced thin
lime wedges, to serve

  • Slice the block of tofu in half or thirds length-wise, wrap in paper towels, and then stack between a couple cutting boards and press out the liquid for at least 15 minutes.
  • Whisk together the tofu marinade in a leak-proof container with a lid. When the tofu is pressed, cut it into cubes, and combine it with the marinade. Put the lid on and give it all a few shakes and then chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes and up to a day. More time will allow for more flavor.
  • Once the tofu has marinated, turn it onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees F for about 40 minutes, flipping it over halfway through.
  • While the tofu is cooking, combine the dressing ingredients and with your hands, massage about half of it through the sliced greens. Add more dressing as necessary or save the extra for another use. You can also add the thinly sliced radishes to the greens, but if they’re extra spicy, toss them onto the baking dish with the tofu in its last few minutes of cooking. It will tame the heat a bit and allow for the sweetness in the radishes to come out.
  • To finish, heat the tortillas and slice the pear and lime.
  • Top the tortillas with all the toppings in any order you prefer, and serve immediately.

sesame garlic tofu + rice bowl with pickled ginger

sesame garlic tofu + rice bowl with pickled ginger

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William and I met up with a friend for dinner a few weeks back in the middle of our travels home after Christmas. He and I have been together for seven plus years now and that dinner happened to be the first (and so far only) time we’ve ever ordered exactly the same thing at a meal out.

I just about hyperventilated as he ordered the exact same sesame garlic tofu bowl with pickled ginger and seasonal vegetables. To make a quick summary of what I’ve been learning from observing William’s eating patterns throughout the years, behavior and food preferences change. For most of us, it definitely doesn’t happen overnight. This meal is an example of that. When we met, there was no way William was going to pick a tofu and vegetable bowl off an ample and varied menu, but he would have picked something with Asian flavors.

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This recipe is my contribution to The Recipe Redux theme for this month, to create and share a budget-friendly meal. I’ve spoken about my experiences with creating meals out of resourcefulness in the past and so I won’t go into specifics again here. I tend to think I eat budget meals most days but that is also a matter of perspective, since the majority of our at-home food spending goes to fruit, and during the winter season, vegetables from local farms. I also have access to several co-ops/natural food stores where I can source nearly all my ingredients save produce in bulk–including the sesame oil, tamari, rice, and vinegar featured here. I know this is not an option for many, but if there are two tips I can share, purchase from the bulk bins when you can and be resourceful; think of recipes as a template and be courageous enough to make substitutions depending on what’s on hand.

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Since we’re talking budget meals, below are a handful of recipes I’ve created over the years that are also friendly for frugal eating in this winter season:

Beans + Rice with Turmeric Special Sauce
Mejadra with Swiss Chard + Tahini
Polenta with Lemon-Garlic Raab + Chickpeas
All-the-Greens Interchangeable Pesto
Black Bean + Corn Chilaquiles
Black Bean + Vegetable Grain Bowl

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Sesame Garlic Tofu + Rice Bowl with Pickled Ginger and Gomasio, serves 4
You’ll notice this is a meal of many components. I said it’s budget-friendly but I didn’t say it is super quick! :)  You can purchase the pickled ginger and gomasio rather than make them, or even leave them out, to simplify and speed things up. If you do choose to make them, the pickled ginger will need to be made ahead so it can “pickle” for a couple days. Both it and the gomasio make big batches for many future uses. Also, definitely use any vegetables of choice. I went out to harvest the last of my carrots (the vibrant purple ones!) and found a couple little salad turnips remaining so I tossed those in the mix as well. 

Sesame Garlic Tofu
1 16-oz. package firm tofu
2 cloves garlic, minced
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 1/2 Tbs. toasted sesame oil
1 1/2 Tbs. apple cider or brown rice vinegar
1 1/2 Tbs. reduced sodium tamari

  • Begin by cutting the tofu in half through it’s width, so you have two rectangles. Then wrap in paper towel and press between two cutting boards for at least 30 minutes. Remove the towels, and cut into pieces.
  • Stir together the remaining ingredients in a large container with a lid and add the pressed tofu. Stir or close the lid and shake briefly. Then, allow the tofu to marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or longer.
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and line a baking pan with parchment paper.
  • When the tofu is ready to be baked, remove it from its container onto the parchment. Reserve the marinade because you’ll use it for the vegetables.
  • Bake for 30 minutes or until the edges are beginning to get nice and crispy, turning halfway through.

Pickled Ginger, makes 1 small jar
1 large hand fresh ginger
2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 cup apple cider or rice vinegar
1/2 cup water

  • Peel the ginger and thinly slice with a sharp knife or on a mandolin.
  • Then combine the ginger and salt in a small bowl and set aside for 30 minutes.
  • Add the ginger to a small jar and pack it tightly.
  • Make the pickling brine by combining the vinegar and water and then pour it over the ginger, filling the jar to within 1/2 inch of the top.
  • Gently tap the jar against the counter a few times to remove all the air bubbles, then seal it tightly.
  • Let the jar cool to room temperature and then store the pickles in the refrigerator; they will improve their flavor as they age — try to wait at least 48 hours before cracking them open.
  • They can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two months.

Gomasio
1 cup sesame seeds
2 tsp. sea salt

  • Toast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until lightly browned. Set aside to cool and toss with 1 teaspoon of the salt.
  • Put 1/3 cup of the seeds into a food processor and process until broken down into a powder. Remove and put into a jar or other container, add the remaining whole seeds and remaining salt and mix together.
  • Use by the spoonful to top finished dishes and store the extra in the fridge. It will keep for many weeks!

Other bowl components
4 cups cooked long-grain or basmati brown rice
4-6 cups seasonal vegetables of choice, diced (I chose carrots, broccoli, and turnips)

To bring the bowl together:

  • When the tofu and rice are nearly done, add the diced vegetables to a steamer basket in a large pan filled with water. Steam until they’re nearly soft but still have a little bit of a bite.
  • Then, remove the steamer basket, drain the water from the pan, and add in the reserved tofu marinade, along with a little extra sesame oil, if needed. Turn the pan up to medium-high and sear-sauté the vegetables in the marinade until just done.
  • For each bowl, arrange cooked rice, tofu, vegetables along with the pickled ginger, and top with the gomasio.

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