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Healthy Eating, Mains, Sides, Vegetarian

Vegetarian Hunan-style tofu

Vegetarian Hunan-style tofu
Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times

Wrinkly Chinese fermented black beans look as though they have just emerged from an archaeological site. Indeed, the salty, pungent little bits are an ancient Chinese staple. Made of black or yellow soybeans, they were once the only soy-based seasoning ... Read more

Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes | Serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as part of a multi-dish meal

Fermented black bean stock

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon fermented black beans, unrinsed

Step 1In a small saucepan, bring the water and black beans to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Strain and use immediately or partially cover, cool and refrigerate for up to several days. This makes about 3 cups of stock, more than is needed for the remainder of the recipe; the stock will keep, covered and refrigerated, up to 1 week.

Hunan-style tofu and assembly

  • 14- to 16-ounces firm tofu
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, more as needed
  • 2 teaspoons light (regular) soy sauce
  • 3/4 cup fermented black bean stock (or another vegetarian stock)
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 Fresno chile, cut on the diagonal into thin pieces, discarding the seeds that fall out
  • 2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 to 4 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch-thick pieces
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons fermented black beans, unrinsed
  • Generous 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 2 teaspoons fermented black bean stock or water
  • 1 green onion, white and green parts, cut on the bias
  • 3/4 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon chile oil

Step 1Cut the tofu into chunky matchboxes, each about 1 1/2 inches by 2 inches by 1/2 inch. Line a plate with a dish towel or double layer of paper towels, then place the tofu on top to drain for 5 to 10 minutes.

Step 2Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the one-fourth teaspoon salt, soy sauce and black bean stock to make the seasoning liquid. Taste and season with additional salt if desired. Set this seasoning liquid with the other ingredients near the stove.

Step 3Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat. Blot dry the tofu, then pan-fry until golden brown and lightly crisp, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate, leaving the oil behind.

Step 4Reduce the heat slightly and add the chile and garlic. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Scatter in the mushrooms along with 1 to 2 pinches of salt. Give things a turn, then splash in the rice wine and stir. After the wine evaporates, add the black beans. Continue to cook until the mushrooms have softened slightly, about 1 minute, stirring constantly.

Step 5Return the tofu to the skillet, gently toss to combine, then pour over the seasoning liquid. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, turning over the tofu midway. When about half of the liquid has been absorbed, stir in the cornstarch slurry. Cook, gently stirring, until the sauce thickens slightly and clings to the tofu, about 1 minute. Stir in the green onion and continue to cook just until the onion starts to wilt. Remove from heat, stir in the sesame and chile oils and transfer to a plate.

Note: Relatively firm-yet-tender tofu pan-fries beautifully with minimal splatter. This is not overly saucy. There should be some visible sauce but the tofu isn't swimming in it. Serve the tofu with rice. The fermented black bean stock is from Fuchsia Dunlop's "Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook.".


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