At this time of year, it’s good that I have a high tolerance for repetition and a knack for variety. We’re – still – working our way through winter storage vegetables, which are thankfully now reduced to cabbage and a few roots. My excuse is that Easter is early this year, and the Christmas wreaths have just come down. The ground will be thawing enough for peas any day now (that’s late too) and it’s time to move on to food that I can associate with spring. So, I replaced the long-cooking roasts and stews and braises of winter’s dark days with a quick, light and healthy stir-fry that would at least taste and feel like a new season.
The idea came from Martha Rose Shulman of the New York Times’ Health Section, who’s a pretty reliable barometer of seasonality. In fact, so much so that I was recently in the middle of writing a post about greens and beans and she came out with one the same week. I shelved mine for a bit so that I wouldn’t seem like a poser.
One of the considerations for weeknight cooking is timing. The more leisurely pace of the weekend allows me to cook serially, one thing after another, whereas during the week, I cook things simultaneously. I’m a natural multi-tasker anyway and I find it fun to cook what seems to be a complex meal in half an hour or so. This stir-fry calls for vegetable broth or chicken stock, neither of which I had on hand, and is accompanied by rice or quinoa. (I made quinoa for others but I preferred mine straight up, without the grain.) That meant that I adjusted the order of the tasks of a normal recipe.
During the first 20 minutes of my half-hour meal, I accomplished four tasks in the following order. (1) I washed and chopped vegetable scraps (the green ends of leeks, the last bit of a celery stalk and some small branches I had set aside, and half a carrot), placed them in a pot of salted water and brought it to a boil, reducing to simmer into a light and flavorful vegetable broth. (2) I put quinoa on to cook. (3) I drained and sliced the tofu and placed it between towels to drain, changing the towels a couple of times. I buy firm tofu in bulk so it’s not as waterlogged as the packaged variety, but either way it’s important to drain it well so that it will brown when cooked. (4) I prepped the vegetables and I assembled the bases for the sauce so that all I had to do was add the broth.
The stir-fry occurred in two main steps. First, you brown sliced tofu in oil in a large sauté pan or wok, sprinkle it with soy sauce, and set it aside. Then, after adding garlic and ginger to a hot pan for seconds, in go the cabbage and peppers for couple of minutes of stir-frying. The two sauces (the second has cornstarch added to a little of the first) are added, and when everything is crisp tender, the tofu and nuts finish it off. (I would normally have used peanuts or cashews but Shulman suggested walnuts and I happened to have some. They added a pleasant crunch.) I varied the cut of Shulman’s vegetables and tinkered with some of the procedures but as usual, her recipes are simple and healthful and a pleasure to make.
And there you have it, a refreshing and flavorful meal in half an hour.
P.S. As a bonus, leftover stir-fry made for a delicious cold lunch.
Stir-fry of Cabbage, Tofu and Peppers adapted from Martha Rose Shulman, NYT
8-12 oz firm tofu (I used 8, Shulman used 12)
½ c vegetable broth (or chicken stock)
2 tbsp soy sauce, divided in half
½ tsp sugar
1 tbsp rice wine or sherry
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp cornstarch
2 tbsp canola or other vegetable oil, divided in half
1 tbsp minced ginger
2 large garlic cloves, minced
½-1 red or yellow pepper, seeded, halved crosswise and sliced lengthwise into strips
½ medium cabbage (about 5 c chopped)
¼ c broken walnuts, unsalted cashews or unsalted peanuts
Hot red pepper sauce or flakes
Additional soy sauce to taste
Cooked rice or quinoa for serving
Cut the tofu into ½-inch slabs and then into 1×1-inch squares. Place between tea towels and press slightly to drain the water. Repeat with additional towels.
In a small bowl, combine the broth, 1 tbsp of the soy sauce, sugar, rice wine or sherry and the sesame oil. Spoon 1 tbsp of the liquid into a small bowl and stir in the cornstarch until dissolved. Set aside at the edge of the stove.
Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or 12-inch skillet over high heat and add 1 tbsp of the oil. Add the tofu, turn down the heat slightly, and brown the tofu on both sides, about 3 minutes. Remove to a plate and toss with the remaining 1 tbsp of soy sauce.
Add the remaining 1 tbsp of oil to the pan, add the minced ginger and garlic and stir for a few seconds. Add the sliced pepper and cabbage and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes. Add the broth and soy sauce mixture and stir for about a minute. Adjust the seasonings with hot pepper sauce or flakes and additional soy sauce. Add the cornstarch mixture and toss to glaze the cabbage slightly. Gently stir in the tofu and nuts.
Serve with cooked rice or quinoa. Serves 4.