The dish comes together extremely quickly but you do have to plan ahead because you need to use previously-frozen tofu. Freezing the tofu changes the texture entirely and makes it very easy to crumble it into “grounds” but you need to have it frozen for at least 24 hours and then it takes quite a while to thaw. Matsumoto says he just keeps a block or two of tofu in the freezer and I am going to do the same. Then you only need to plan for thawing time, which can be sped up with a bowl of warm water.
Matsumoto’s recipe is vegan and he recommends a hard-to-find white soy sauce as a substitute for fish sauce. I didn’t have time to go hunting for it, so I just used the fish sauce. All the other ingredients are vegan. I basically used the same method for this dish as I do for all of my other one-skillet ground “meat” recipes—sauté the aromatics, add the ground protein and vegetables and steam until they’re cooked, then add sauce. This differs from Matsumoto’s technique but worked well for me. The recipe is very adaptable to any vegetables you want to throw in, as long as they’re chopped to a size that will ensure it all gets cooked at the same time.
The whole family really went for this dish in a way I did not expect. The fish sauce definitely lends a bit of a funk but they were all over it. I had doubled the sauce portion on my first try because I felt the amount given wasn’t enough. This made it too salty. While mitigated by the plain grain we served it over, I have reduced the salt in the recipe that follows.
1 14-16 oz block extra firm tofu, frozen in its package and then thawed
2 TBSP vegetable oil (with a high smoke point)
1/2 onion finely chopped (original recipe adds the onions later and cuts them in strips—feel free to do that if you like it better, we prefer smaller pieces of onion)
2-3 cloves garlic minced or put through a press or chopped in the food processor
100 g (or two to three large handfuls) shiitake or crimini mushrooms, chopped finely
1/2 head of broccoli, cauliflower or cabbage cut into quite small pieces or chopped super finely in the food processor
1/2 red bell pepper sliced or chopped similarly to the other vegetables
2-3 carrots thinly sliced or chopped similarly to the other vegetables
2 1/2 TBSP fish sauce or vegan substitute such as white soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp dark soy sauce
Large bunch Thai basil (or to taste). I finely chopped it to ensure distribution throughout the dish and was surprised at how well the flavor carried
With all the extra vegetables, our family of four got two nights out of this amount
- Remove the previously-frozen and now thawed tofu from the package. Using a colander, discard the water and then rinse thoroughly, squeezing all the while. The more rinsing and squeezing you do, the milder the flavor. The tofu will naturally start to break up. Keep doing so, tearing and squeezing, until you get small crumbles. Get as much water out as you can and leave in the colander until you are ready to use
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and then add the onion. Sauté until translucent, reducing heat if the onion starts to brown too much (unless you like browned onion better)
- Once the onion is soft, add the garlic and mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms have given up their liquid
- Add the tofu and other vegetables and lower the heat. Put the lid on the skillet and steam for a few minutes until the vegetables are your desired level of tenderness
- Add the sauce to the pan and stir. Taste and adjust seasoning to your preference
- Remove from heat and scatter the basil over the dish, stirring it in if you like (we do)
- Serve over the grain of your choice, or even rice noodles