The Hand Off: Fried Tofu with Spring Vegetables & Peanut Sauce
By Sarah A. Maine
The morning of our great tofu making adventure Amri and I met up at the Greenmarket in Union Square. We got there at eleven, just as the crowds were starting to build. Steeling ourselves and plunged into the fray, making a reconnaissance circuit to see what was available, what was looking good, and what was the right price. Our goal was to harvest the best that spring had on offer to pair with what we hoped would be delicious home made tofu and spicy peanut sauce.
You know spring has finally arrived in New York when ramps are rampant at the farmers markets. Almost every stall has a basket of ramps out on the table – so it is mainly a matter of finding the best looking ones at a reasonable price. Ramps are a type of wild leek, the flavor and aroma of which are a combination of garlic and onions; they are available for a few pungent weeks starting in mid-April. They have developed a ‘foodie’ reputation in recent years but they have long been part of traditional Eastern American food ways from South Carolina all the way up to Canada. A favorite way to eat ramps is to fry them in bacon fat – but given the Asian personality of our dish Amri and I opted to use peanut oil instead. At the Union Square Greenmarket most ramps go for $3 a bunch, we picked up a few bunches from Mountain Sweet Berry Farms (located in Roscoe NY). There are still some ramps lingering at the farmers markets in New York right now, but if you miss them this year, put them on your list of things to look forward to next spring.
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Pea shoots were available across the way from Gorzynski Farm – the ones we bought were on the mature side so the stems turned out to be a little tough – we ate them anyway – but small, tender sprouts are best. Herbs are not yet making a big showing at the market but we did find Cilantro at Migliorelli’s Farm Stand so we snagged a bunch. Finally, on the far side of the market we found tables mounded with another signature spring vegetable: asparagus – beautiful green spears tapering to elegant purple points. The stand had no sign so I don’t know who they were but their display was certainly impressive and irresistible!
The elements of this dish are each fairly simple on their own, the harmony of the ingredients is what really makes it sing. if you are not making your own tofu it is a tasty and easy dish to put together in about a half hour.
Fried Tofu with Spring Vegetables and Peanut Sauce
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
- 14 oz. tofu
- 1 bunch asparagus
- 1 bunch ramps
- 2 cups pea shoots (substitute with any other kind of sprout or microgreens)
- 2 Tbs peanut oil
- 1/4 cup peanut sauce
- 1/2 cup cilantro
- Clean the ramps by rinsing them and removing the root clumps. Separate the bulbs from the leaves.
- Put 1 Tbs peanut oil in a heated saucepan. Add the ramp bulbs and stir them so they are coated in the oil. Cook on low heat until the bulbs are tender – about 10 minutes.
- Chop the ramp leaves. Add them to the saucepan and cook for another 5 minutes. Turn the heat off and cover.
- Slice the asparagus spears into thin diagonal slices, set aside.
- Slice the tofu into 8 steaks about 1/2 thick. Heat a large pan or skillet, add 1 Tbs peanut oil. Lay the tofu steaks in the pan and fry them on both sides for 5 minutes per side until they have a nice golden brown color.
- Turn the heat back on under the ramps, add the asparagus slices and stir fry the mixture for 3 – 5 minutes.
- Lay a bed of pea shoots on each plate (about 1/2 cup on each), top with a tofu steak, a layer of the sautéed vegetables, then another tofu steak – making a kind of veggie and tofu tower.
- Spoon a healthy dollop of peanut sauce over the top and garnish with cilantro leaves.
- Let the energy of Spring work its magic on you!
Amri and I originally set out to make Tahu Isi – tofu that is stuffed with fresh vegetables and then fried. We realized that the tofu we made from scratch was too delicate and would fall apart if we tried to stuff it, so we adjusted the recipe on the fly and still achieved a tasty result. I’ll be continuing my tofu explorations, and as my skills improve I may be able to bring Tahu Isi to the Relay at a later date. Stuffed or not, this recipe is very flexible – the vegetables can be adapted to fit every season without too much effort. Have fun with it, and please leave a comment to let me know how your tofu adventures are turning out!
Amri Abuseman is a self described techno-geek who loves to try out different cuisines. She won’t cook under pressure!