One summer when I was around 14-years-old, my mother, perhaps sick of hearing complaints about what she’d choose to make for dinner after a long day at work, suddenly declared that I’d be responsible for making at least one meal per week. Undaunted, I eagerly started searching through cookbooks for recipe ideas. Perhaps my mother intended to shut me up about my whining, but the plan backfired– not only did my desire to try things that sounded intensely tasty outweigh my fear about following complicated recipes but since most of my favorite recipes came from Moosewood cookbooks, I decided to become a vegetarian, meaning even more adolescent exasperated sighs of disgust when my mother would try to offer a quick-cooking, meaty stir fry for dinner.
One Moosewood recipe I instantly fell in love with was wedges of fried tofu, sitting on top of a bed of fresh spinach leaves and hot, steamed rice, then topped with a spicy, citrusy soy sauce. I’d eat that all the time if it weren’t for how irritating it can be to fry tofu, its moist interior causing oil to spatter and spray while it sits in an open frying pan. It took a conversation with a vegan friend of mine to turn the lightbulb on in my head– I have a deep fryer now. Why not use that to fry tofu? Sure there’s the hassle of cleaning out the oil afterwards, but here was the potential to have crunchy pieces of tofu without fear of getting burned.
So when My Kitchen, My World made Indonesia the destination for June, I used that treasured Moosewood recipe as a jumping off point for my own ideas on how to increase the complexity and variety of flavors in this simple dish. I took pieces of pressed, firm tofu and thinly sliced rounds of shallot and tossed them in a mix of cornstarch, coconut flour, finely shredded coconut, curry powder, some cayenne for heat, and ground coriander. Into the deep fryer they went and they came out beautifully golden, light and airy. While the tofu fried up, I cooked some brown rice and tossed the spinach leaves and some crisp cucumber in a mix of rice vinegar, canola oil, salt and pepper. Lastly, the magical sauce for drizzling on the tofu: tamari soy sauce, lime juice, chopped jalapeno, green onions, cilantro, and some maple syrup for sweetness. I can’t say that this is Indonesian, but it’s inspired by how Indonesian food balances sweet, sour, spice, and salt. It’s so light and vibrant, basically a vegan summer meal that meat eaters will love too.
Note: To keep this totally gluten-free, use gluten-free soy sauce in place of the tamari. You can also feel free to cut out the steamed rice and make this a salad instead.
- 5-6 cups canola oil for frying, plus 5 tablespoons divided for spinach dressing and finishing sauce
- 16 oz firm tofu, cut into 1 inch triangles
- 1/4 cup corn starch
- 1/4 cup coconut flour
- 1/8 cup finely shredded coconut
- 1 tablespoon curry powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- 3 large shallots, sliced into 1/4 inch thick rounds
- 2 cups cooked brown rice
- 4 cups spinach leaves, washed and spun dry
- 1/2 English cucumber, sliced crosswise 1/8 inch thick
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 3 tablespoons canola oil
- pinch each of sugar, salt, and pepper
- juice of 1/2 large lime
- 2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 3 tablespoons canola oil
- 2 tablespoons each chopped green onion and fresh cilantro
- 1 medium jalapeno, minced
- 2 teaspoons maple syrup
About 1/2 an hour before you start cooking, remove the tofu block from its package and drain of excess water. Sandwich the tofu between two plates and top with a bowl of water. Let this sit for half an hour then pour out the water that was squeezed out. Cut the tofu into 1 inch squares then cut those squares in half on a diagonal so you have triangles.
Add as much oil to your deep fryer as required by package directions and heat to 350 degrees.
On a large plate, mix together the cornstarch, coconut flour, shredded coconut, curry powder, coriander, and cayenne. Add 1/3 of the tofu and toss to coat then add to the fryer. Fry for 2-3 minutes or until tofu is golden and crisp. Remove to a paper towel lined plate and repeat process two more times. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Toss the shallot rings in the remaining cornstarch mixture and fry until golden– about 3-4 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towel lined plate.
While tofu cooks, whisk together the rice vinegar, oil, sugar, salt and pepper. Toss the spinach and cucumber in the dressing and set aside. In a small bowl, mix together the soy sauce, lime juice, canola and sesame oils, green onion, cilantro, jalapeno, and syrup.
To serve: plate some rice, top with the spinach and cucumber mixture, pieces of tofu and a sprinkle of extra green onion and cilantro. Let your diners drizzle the soy sauce mixture on top to taste.