Braised Tofu with Spicy Mushroom Sauce

Soaked and drained seaweed for a side salad.

Braised Tofu with Mushroom Sauce, Seaweed Salad and Brown Rice

A near-perfect vegetarian entree also adept at capturing the hearts of carnivores.
First things first, this is going to be soooo much easier if you purchase the extra-firm variety of tofu available at all supermarkets. Firm tofu is acceptable but handle with kid gloves and a prayer; bean curd crumbles if even stared at too closely. Remove 1 12-16oz. block of tofu from the package and drain gently on a dish towel or paper towels. Leave to rest, covered, for about 30 minutes to remove as much moisture as possible. Now slice in half through the middle, leaving you with two large pieces. If serving as a side dish, go ahead and cut into four pieces. Set aside while you soak 1/2 cup dried shitake mushrooms in hot water for 30 minutes. If the mushrooms aren't already sliced, do so after they've finished soaking and softened. Again, set aside. 

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-heat and when hot, add 1 T. vegetable oil. Drain and stir-fry the mushrooms for a few minutes, until they seem quite soft. Reserve the mushroom soaking liquid, rich with earthy flavor. Add another T. of oil to the skillet and fry quickly 2 thinly sliced cloves of garlic along with the mushrooms. After a minute or two add 1/4 cup vegetable stock and 2-3 T. mushroom soaking water to the pan. Add 2 T. soy sauce, 1 t. sugar (brown is tastier, white is OK), 1 minced hot green or red chile, 3 or 4 chopped scallions and 3 slivered kaffir lime leaves. If you don't have lime leaves, substitute for now 1 t. grated lime zest and then go buy a package of the leaves at your local Asian market. Kaffir lime leaves keep for one year frozen in an airtight bag.

Bring all to a boil and add the halved tofu to the pan. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for 5 minutes then carefully flip tofu "steaks" and simmer covered an additional 5 minutes. If the braising liquid dries out add more stock as needed. After 10 minutes total cooking time, remove tofu to serving dish and top with any remaining sauce. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and top with chopped cilantro.


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