Monday, March 20, 2017

Kung Pao-Inspired Workday Tofu and Cauliflower

Work lunches are a perpetual struggle for me. I never go out for lunch or get take-out for a variety of reasons, but figuring out something tasty and filling is always a challenge. I don't love sandwiches or salads (except my kale salad or that cucumber walnut salad in the summer. MMMMM). I prefer a hot lunch and I want the meal to be nutritious. I've tried a bunch of stuff, like making dumplings ahead and rotating that with homemade falafel, but sometimes I just don't have the wherewithal to pre-prep quite so much. Enter this dish. I saw Nourish Evolution's Kung Pao Cauliflower and was intrigued. I happened to have a spare half head of cauliflower and I thought that it might be savory enough to keep me satisfied, provided I also include a block of tofu. I made it and liked it well enough, but didn't like the idea of balsamic vinegar or Sriracha. Then I realized that if I really wanted Kung Pao, I should be used Fuchsia Dunlop's Gung Bao Chicken recipe as my baseline. Much better. This recipe is called "kung pao-inspired" because I take enough shortcuts with Dunlop's recipe that I don't want anyone thinking this is in any way a true Chinese recipe. Instead, it's an easy, savory, delicious way to make all three of my packed work lunches for the week at one go.

2 TBSP sugar
1 1/2 potato starch or 2 1/4 tsp cornstarch
4 tsp soy sauce (Dunlop says half light and half dark soy sauce but my pantry only has Nama shoyu right now so I used all of that and it was fine)
2 TBSP Chinkiang or Chinese black vinegar
2 tsp sesame oil
2 TBSP water or stock
1 TBSP hot chili oil (optional)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tsp grated fresh ginger, or to taste

1/2 head cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 block firm or extra firm tofu, cut into bite-sized squares. Pressed or brined in a hot water salt solution as desired (I didn't bother--just cut it up and blotted with a towel. There was a bit of spatter in the pan but not too much)
2 TBSP oil that can withstand high heat such as canola or peanut
1/2 c dry roasted peanuts


  1. Whisk the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl. Taste and adjust to your preferences for spice, salt and sweet. Set near the stove
  2. Blanch the cauliflower florets in boiling water for 2 minutes then shock in ice water. Then drain the water and pat dry
  3. Set your dried cauliflower and tofu near the stove
  4. In a large skillet (I use our 12-inch cast iron pan), heat the 2 TBPS oil on medium-high until shimmering. Add the tofu in a single layer and brown on a few sides
  5. When the tofu is mostly golden, push it to the sides of the pan and add the cauliflower. Cook for a few minutes, stirring, until the cauliflower is browned in spots
  6. Give the sauce a final stir and then pour over the cauliflower and tofu. Immediately lower the heat to low or medium-low so it doesn't burn. The sauce will thicken on contact. Stir well to coat then remove from heat. Add the peanuts now, or, for maximum crunch, save them to the side and add after re-heating right before eating. I get three generous lunch servings out of this, more if I serve over rice or another grain

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