People assume that because I am a vegetarian, I must like tofu. Well, that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, I don’t love tofu, except fried, of course. Predominantly, there are two reasons for this: 1) contrary to popular belief, tofu is not bland. I detect a very subtle taste that kicks in at the very end that I absolutely detest. This aftertaste is not detectable when fried, which is why I love fried tofu. 2) As North Americans, most of us don’t know how to cook tofu in a way that brings out its best. We add tofu as is, often not even marinated, to our familiar dishes and expect it to taste great.
A number of years ago, I was shopping at Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market and discovered Ying Ying Soy Foods. I decided to give their tofu a try and was shocked to discover that with very little preparatory work, I was able to not only eat the tofu, but enjoy it. The next time I visited Toronto, I brought my cooler along and stocked up. I expressed to the woman behind the counter that I have had issues with tofu for the longest time, but for some reason, I was really enjoying her product. She was not surprised to hear this at all. Besides the fact that her product is organic, she explained that they use a type of coagulant used traditionally for centuries that made the difference in their product. I have been hooked ever since and use nothing else.
I’m not sure what to call this dish. Canadian Living calls it braised tofu napa nabe. Sure, I’ll go with that, but it’s so much more.
In a previous post, I talked about how “in the wintertime, we love to eat hot comfort food. We turn to dishes that warm our bellies, melt our hearts, and insulate us from the cold. We look forward to dishes like roasted root vegetables, steaming soups and stews and baked casseroles like macaroni and cheese. There are reasons for this; Canadian winters can be mighty cold!”
That’s what this dish screamed to me: comfort food, comfort vegetarian food, new comfort vegetarian food. In spite of all the cabbage and shiitakes, the broth tastes neither like cabbage, nor like shiitakes, but a beautiful blend of both that combine with the vegetable broth, mirin, and tamari to produce an insanely delicate, extremely flavourful (but not overpowering), and smooth broth. Even though the list of ingredients for this dish is not exhaustive, there’s enough variety to make every bite intriguing, forcing you to go back for more. I dug in with both a fork and a spoon and my husband followed suit. Swimming alongside those hearty chunks of cabbage and shiitakes were those perfectly cooked grains of basmati brown rice, not only adding texture, but substance. Then of course, the tofu, which dipped in the ponzu sauce, had a hint of saltiness that delighted the tongue and revealed with that first bite the secret known to centuries of tofu eaters, that if cooked properly, tofu could be and definitely was exciting.
I made some minor changes to the recipe, which I believe are true enhancements, namely: using a couple of tablespoons of peanut oil to slightly caramelize the onions and garlic (of course I added garlic), deglazed the entire thing with the mirin, replaced the soy with tamari, upped the mushrooms and used only vegetable broth, omitting the water. I cooked up some brown rice and served a generous ladle in each bowl before topping it with the broth, veggies, and tofu.
This is quick, easy, weeknight comfort food.
|Oil, peanut||2 tbsp|
|Onions, small, sliced||2|
|Garlic, cloves, minced||2|
|Broth, vegetable||6 cups|
|Cabbage, napa, small, chopped in big pieces||1.5 lbs|
|Mushrooms, shiitake, slice larger mushrooms in half, remove and discard stems||12 oz|
|Tofu, soft or medium, drained and cubed||3/4 lb|
|Onion, green, chopped||1 (for garnish)|
|Ponzu sauce||for dipping tofu|
|Rice, brown||1.5 cups (uncooked)|
- Prepare rice as directed on package (my brand of rice cooks in approximately 40 minutes).
- In a medium pot, heat peanut oil.
- Add onions and cook for 3-4 minutes until they begin to caramelize.
- Add garlic and sauté for 2 minutes.
- Deglaze with mirin. Allow to reduce for 2 minutes.
- Add cabbage, mushrooms, and broth. Cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes.
- Add tofu and tamari; simmer until tofu is heated through, about 5 minutes.
- Remove from heat.
- To serve, place a ladle of cooked rice in each bowl. Top with two ladles of vegetables, tofu and broth. Garnish with green onion.
- Serve with ponzu sauce for dipping tofu.