About six weeks ago, I started the following post draft as I was cooking dinner and got distracted before I could finish.
After a hedonistic feast in New York that I thoroughly enjoyed, I was happy to get home to some CSA veggies, simply prepared. I opened my fridge to see what had made it through the weekend. The lemon balm had seen better days, and I was not so sad, for after walking by a cleaning crew in the subway, I recalled what the smell was a not-so-subtle reminder of. The 2 remaining turnips were OK, not great, and their greens are fading fast. The chard and collard greens were going strong, and the baby bok choy and scallions were hitting peak. I had some tofu, so I figured a veggie stir-fry was in order.
I had planned to spice up my dish with sriracha (the brand I always buy is Huy Fong) but to my dismay, had none anywhere in my kitchen. This is such a staple in my home that when my neighbors were moving and cleaning out their fridge, offering me their half-opened bottle, I scoffed, saying, “I must have at least a bottle if not two upstairs.” Imagine my shock when I scoured my cupboard but it was bare, at least as far as sriracha was concerned.
So trek out to the mean streets of Cantabrigia, Central Square to be exact, at a few minutes to 8 I did, in search of this apparently elusive ingredient. Afterknocking on a few neighbors’ doors first (no one was home). Three grocery stores in a 5 block radius, I figured my odds were pretty good. I first tried Shalimar, my local Indian grocer and spice store because it closed at 9. No luck – they only had chili garlic sauce.
Next door, Harvest Co-op should have been a sure thing. I mean, a store that sells bulk spices and dried beans to the crunchiest of crunch? I searched every aisle and even asked the store manager, finally storming out of the co-op, exclaiming in a too-loud voice, “How do you NOT have sriracha? This is Cambridge, for G-d’s sake!”
Final stop, Whole Foods. Nope. They had one random brand that had fish extract in it – sorry, that’s not sriracha.
I returned home empty-handed.
A final knock on the same neighbors’ doors. My next-door neighbor was home, but poor guy, his wife and infant son were out of the country for a few weeks and he was a born-again bachelor, eating pre-frozen, labeled dinners. He opened his pantry and looked at it bewildered, letting me rummage around a bit. Still no luck.
That night, I had turned to Twitter, tweeting out my frustration, and got a few words of consolation after the fact (including an offer from @alizakaila at KosherGourmetMart to send me some sriracha). Before leaving my apartment, I had sent out an SOS message and here’s what the “tweetlog” looked like:
Jaden and a few other bloggers that I had previously come across had just launched GoodBite — a compendium of the best of the food web, “delicious made easy” is their verbiage — and I was drawn in to Jaden’s site that I browsed through as I set my canola oil to heat, having already chopped up my veggies, garlic, and ginger, and checked on the tofu that I had cubed and pressed before leaving for the store.
I came across a post about cooking bok choy and with snappy rules like, “hot wokky, no stikky” – “cold wokky, very garlickky” and of course, “young grasshoppa, let me show you the way” (OK, that one was just a bit gratuitous, but I couldn’t resist), how could I not listen? I immediately commented on her post (wow … look at the time … I was really getting hungry!):
Just came across your site via a tweet from sweetamandine. And such serendipity – I am making a bok choy dish tonight and was heating up the oil. Turned burner off, letting oil cool, and will reheat with garlic and ginger. Beautiful pictures!
It was too late to re-chop my baby bok choy like Jaden’s pictures, but I did just as I commented. And the result was stellar. Even thought I didn’t cover the wok (ok, I don’t have a wok — we’re adding that to the list) to let the veggies steam and get brilliant green, I so loved what I made that I didn’t miss the sriracha at all.
And the reason for this post tonight of all nights?
Because I never went out to buy sriracha. And I made stir-fry this way a few more times, including tonight to use up more CSA baby bok choy and some gorgeous 8-ball zucchini that I bought at the Harvard farmers’ market a week ago …
… and had hoped to stuff and bake, but life got in the way and as some of my veggies are wont to go, they had seen better days.
Bok Choy Tofu Stir-fry
I picked up the cold-oil technique from Jaden/Steamy Kitchen’s bok choy recipe, but if you want your vegetables to be vibrant green, you should read her recipe and tips more closely. The rest is how I’ve been stir-frying for years. It might not be so authentic, but it’s how I like things. The quantities here are pretty approximate because I very rarely measure when stir-frying – this is a taste-as-you-go kind of dish for me, but this should give you an idea of how I pull everything together.
Serves 2. Or 1 with some leftovers for lunch (and to snap pictures in daylight). Or 1 very hungry girl.
You want to prep everything in advance so that when your wok is hot, you can throw everything in and cook it all up pretty quickly. Most of the time required for a stir-fry is the cleaning and chopping.
Cube and cut a package of firm tofu at least an hour in advance and press some of the moisture out between paper towels. I often place the tofu on a bed of paper towels in a colander, cover with more towels, and then place a plate on top, weighted down with a can of beans. Keep changing the paper towels as they absorb some of the tofu’s moisture – the idea is that the tofu should be pretty dry when you put it in the wok.
Prepare a whole lot of garlic and ginger – as much as you want…I used 2-3 cloves garlic and ~ 1.5 t ginger (a chunk about 2 thumbs wide) here. I chop my garlic pretty fine with a big chef’s knife (or often cheat with the stuff you get in a jar and keep in the fridge) and grate my garlic on a cute little fish-shaped grater after peeling. I usually keep ginger in the freezer because otherwise it dries out or gets moldy in the fridge. It defrosts pretty quickly.
Cut up your veggies. You can use whatever looks good to you. On the night in question (i.e., the one that I captured in photos), I used a few CSA veggies — 1 baby bok choy, 3 spring onions — and 1 can of straw mushrooms. Separate the bok choy leaves from the central stem and let soak in cold water to remove dirt, then run under cold water and remove any remaining dirt with your fingers. Cut perpendicular to stem into ribbon-like strips. According to Jaden, keep the little center intact – this is the nugget (how cute!). Clean the spring onions under cold water and remove the outer (sometimes slimy) layer and any clinging dirt (check the green tops, especially if they have separated because that’s where dirt might be hiding). Chop off the hairy ends and then slice rounds of white and light green. Drain the straw mushrooms.
Gather the rest of your ingredients: 1-2 T canola oil, 1-2 t sesame oil, 1 t hot pepper oil, 1 t ersatz chicken soup mix (yup – this is just that MSG stuff…but Jaden says she likes MSG…) dissolved in ½ C water OR chicken stock OR veggie stock, a dash of soy sauce/tamari, juice of ½ lemon (~2t), and 1 t corn starch (have this ready in its own little bowl).
Now, get ready to act fast. Pour canola oil in wok or large sauté pan (I use a Calphalon hard anonized pan) with the ginger and garlic over pretty high heat (medium-high or high). Keep moving the wok around and use a silicone spatula or fancy Asian tool if you have one (I don’t) to prevent the garlic/ginger mix from burning. When you can smell the spices, after about a minute or so, add tofu with sesame and hot pepper oil (to taste) and let it start to brown on all sides. Add the spring onions and then bok choy, for another minute or two (cover with top if you have one and let everything steam). Add the mushrooms last because they only need to heat up. Pour in the stock and soy sauce/tamari, and squeeze the lemon-half over the wok.
To thicken sauce, add a few spoonfuls of the hot sauce from the pan into the bowl with the corn starch and mix well. The pour this sort of milky mix back into the wok and incorporate it into the sauce. Keep stirring the whole stir-fry with your spatula or switch over to tongs.
The whole process take me about 6-10 minutes — I’m not a fast stir-fryer. Also, my tofu always sticks to my pan. Perhaps my motto should be “anonized panny – major stickky!”
This is great served over rice, or plain.