Thursday, March 14, 2013

Asian Tofu: Spicy-Sweet Fried Tofu Buns

Spicy-Sweet Fried Tofu Buns

These lovely little Chinese style steamed buns are from Andrea Nguyen's cookbook Asian Tofu... which I received for Christmas but have yet to use to make tofu... though I did buy soybeans! Still need to make/improvise/buy a tofu mold and press so I can document the process... but of course, you don't actually need to have any desire at all to make tofu at home to get a lot out of this book. Store bought tofu works for all the recipes, and what's interesting about Asian Tofu is that since it's written from an Asian perspective (obviously) it's not particularly vegetarian. Certainly most of the recipes are, but since in Asian cultures tofu is a completely mainstream ingredient, you'll see it mixed with meat or fish in ways you wouldn't in American restaurants where it is still mainly considered a protein substitute for vegetarians. People with any experience with tofu know better than this... it's a crazy versatile ingredient that can do all sorts of neat things based on how you prepare it... and that shares almost nothing in common with meat... but I admit I still do feel a little guilty about mapo tofu, even if it's really awesome... or perhaps especially because it's really awesome (vegetarians take heart, there are vegan versions).

That said, this recipe is completely vegan and based on a recipe from Eddie Huang's BaoHaus. Serious Eats has the recipe, so I won't bother to repeat it here. The easiest way to do it is to make the Thai sweet chili sauce on a separate evening, because otherwise assembling the buns isn't super difficult. You have time to prep everything else while the tofu is soaked and drained, and the buns should stay warm for a while even after you take them off the heat, so I didn't find time management to be difficult (generally my Achilles heel). The recipe calls for two "special" ingredients 1) Chinese folded buns and 2) potato starch. The first is the entire point of the dish and thus pretty critical, but you can safely sub in corn starch for the potato starch. Allegedly potato starch crisps up a little better when fried but I've not personally compared. The Chinese folded buns are most likely to be found in an Asian market, probably frozen... which here in Boston/Cambridge means Super 88... though I've been told you can actually get them fresh down in China Town. Being that steamed buns are a pretty versatile dinner option I'm beginning to think I'll want to keep the frozen variety stocked from now on.

Another note is that those Asian style double layer steamers are necessary if you want to do all twelve buns at once... a fold up steamer basket will probably only hold five or six.

Beyond those notes on specialty ingredients/instructions, I thought the tofu is actually treated in an interesting way here... soaked in near boiling salted water for 15 minutes before being drained for another 15 minutes. That's not something I've heard of people doing before, and it seemed to result in a softer texture for the finished product, but more research seems necessary.

Anyway, I really liked this recipe... found it to be a good collection of flavors: fried tofu with sweet chili sauce topped with cilantro and crushed peanuts. Recommended.