Bring your computer into the kitchen for a minute and open your freezer door. Push aside all those frozen pizzas and TV dinners and grab a couple of those rock solid bags of frozen vegetables you use to ice down stubbed toes. What do you have there…some frozen peas, chopped string beans, one of those carrot-bean-broccoli mixers? That’s fine. Anything but frozen corn-nothing against it, it’s just not this dish’s style-will work. Set them down on the counter to thaw a little and make yourself a checklist.
You’re going to need:
- 1 large firm or extra-firm tofu portion (14-16 oz.), chopped into three-quarter-inch cubes
- 1 green bell pepper, sliced
- ½ pound baby carrots, chopped
- 1 onion, diced
- 3 cloves (yes, 3) garlic, mashed if possible (minced otherwise)
- 3 good handfuls of those frozen vegetables, whatever they might be, defrosted and lightly boiled
- 1 cup balsamic vinegar
- ½ cup spicy brown (deli) mustard
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- ½ tablespoon chili powder
- 1 3-second squirt Thai chili sauce (“sriracha”)
- vegetable or olive oil
- flour (optional)
- eggs (optional)
- a four-top range stove
- 1 ½ cups short grain white rice
- 3 cups water
- 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
- salt to taste
- cumin to taste
- Serves 3-4, depending on appetites
First, prepare your fresh veggies to the above specifications and set them aside. Chop up your tofu, the more regularly the better, and if you’re in the mood for a slightly less healthy delicacy this would be the perfect time to roll the newly cubed curds about in some egg and flour for frying purposes. Either way, set these cubes aside too.
Now set a big pot of water to boil, salt it and toss in those frozen veggies. You want this dish to be heavy on the vegetables, but you don’t want them to choke out your tofu and spices. Once the pot’s aboil and you’ve tossed in your vegetables, grab two large, deep frying pans and coat them with vegetable oil, one lightly and one a bit more heavily. Heat them both to medium high and toss in your carrots as soon as the lightly oiled (henceforth “vegetable pan”) pan warms up. Wait a bit longer for the tofu pan to get nice and hot and then toss them in CAREFULLY, standing well away from the pan. Wait until the sizzling calms and then push them around to an even coat. Now would also be the time to add your garlic, half to each pan.
Set your rice pot to a boil, following the instructions on the back of the bag and tossing the cumin in with the salt. Note the time so you don’t overdo the rice.
Your boiled vegetables should be about done. Remove them from the heat, drain (really drain-try to remove as much excess moisture as possible), and add them to the now sizzling vegetable pan. If you like your onions soft and goopy, add them now; otherwise, wait seven or eight minutes until you’re ready to add your green peppers. Simultaneously add your balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, sugar, chili powder and paprika to both pans, splitting evenly without prior mixing (this adds a pleasantly scattershot quality to the finished product, allowing all the flavors to shine through on any given bite). Mix thoroughly in each pan until color and consistency become more or less uniform.
Now-if you can-sit back and just let everything cook for a few minutes. Keep track of your sauces: in the vegetable pan, things will get more watery; in the tofu pan, things should be firming up. Once this trend stabilizes, it’s time to add your peppers (and onions, if you didn’t earlier) to the tofu pan to lend your now-firming tofu a boost of moisture. Once these are settled, add the sriracha and deli mustard and mix thoroughly.
Cook for a few more minutes, but it’s important not to overdo it as you want your mustard and chili flavors to really shine through. The vinegar and soy sauce are the background to this dish-you want your zest to be front and center here. At some point during this period you’ll want to remove your rice from the heat and slowly mix the tofu and vegetables together, reducing that burner to low. The vegetables should be soft but not limp; the tofu should be firm, even crunchy, especially if you opted to fry it.
Now all you need to do is portion, serve, and enjoy!
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