Food at college is pretty decent. Most of the time it’s relatively healthy, or at least a healthier option is provided. Of course one can choose to not eat their vegetables, to avoid the fruit bowl and to have second helpings of dessert every night. But one need not – it’s good practice in self restraint. Diligence. As with all college’s there’s been the occasional ‘huh’ meal, such as chicken meatloaf aka. chicken mince baked into a pale, lifeless slab. Mmm yummy. Unless you start to go all ‘foodie’ and ‘snobby’, most takes on the classics are perfectly fine. Despite striving to adopt a ‘food is food’ mindset, from time to time one cannot help weep over how easy it is for a dish to fail dismally, simply due to particular techniques or ingredients. On one such night we were presented with the option of sweet and sour pork or sweet and sour tofu. Now, the meal was adequate, in no way inedible. Yet it was blow-your-socks-off sweet and lacked any satisfying crunch from vegetables. This was one such time when the food snobbery rears it’s head and you can’t help but compare it to your own ‘better’ recipe.
The main issue many most people had with college sweet and sour tofu/pork was…yep you guessed it, the sweetness. Why, one could have forgotten that ‘sour’ was part of the name. If we take a squiz at this recipe the pineapple juice and tomato sauce provide more than enough sweetness – and it’s certainly healthier than a few tablespoons of brown sugar (or in the college case, sauce from a jar)! Moving on to other vital ingredients…mirin, “what’s mirin?” you may ask. It’s a Japanese rice wine that’ll be found in the international section of most large supermarkets, as well as in health food or Asian grocery stores.
Texture is key in this dish. It’s very easy to use a soft – or even silken – tofu, incorporate the odd stray carrot or two and call it done. Uh-uh. To transform the dish from ordinary to exceptional you’ve gotta invest in some good-quality firm (sometimes known as ‘hard’) tofu. Furthermore, take the time to hunt down brown rice flour – nowadays most supermarkets stock it. Alternatively you’ll find it in the bulk bins of most health food shops. By tossing the cubes of tofu in rice flour prior to marinating, you create a lovely, thick ‘shell’ of flavour, that when fried at a high heat, turns delightfully crispy. Even those who aren’t ‘friends’ with tofu will be tempted…
The addition of crisp, colourful vegetables takes this sweet and sour to another new level. Not only do they prevent monotony of textures, but the extra burst of flavour is much appreciated. And for that matter, as is the extra nutrients! I’ve listed my favourite combination below but feel free to mix and match (just be sure to stick to similar quantities) with others such as bok choy, baby corn spears, or dare I say, the humble carrot.
Sweet, sour (I mean, come on, what other adjectives is one meant to use?) with a thick sauce and crispy veg, serve it atop of rice noodles, steamed rice or even as a stand alone dish. Who needs Chinese take-away when you can make your own healthier – and tastier – version! You can’t keep the food snob hidden all the time…
Sweet & Sour Tofu
Serves 4 – 6
440g can pineapple pieces (in juice)
3 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp tomato sauce
2 tbsp soy sauce
200g firm tofu, cut into 1.5cm dice
2 tbsp brown rice flour
2 tsp cornflour
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 onion, halved & thinly sliced
1 tbsp crushed garlic
1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely grated
½ medium sized green chilli, deseeded & finely chopped
1 large red capsicum, deseeded & cut into 1.5x4cm strips
150g button mushrooms, quartered
100g broccoli, cut into small florets
100g snow peas, trimmed and cut into 5cm long pieces
Drain pineapple and set aside, placing ¼ cup of the juice in a bowl. Whisk the juice with the mirin, tomato sauce, soy sauce and sugar until smooth.
In a freezer bag, toss the diced tofu with the rice flour until evenly coated. Transfer the tofu to a large bowl and toss with 3 tbsp of the marinade. Cover and leave to rest for thirty minutes (or longer), turning the tofu once in a while.
Whisk the cornflour into the remaining marinade until smooth. Set aside.
Heat the sesame oil in a wok over a medium-high heat. Drain the tofu and transfer any remaining marinade to the bowl of reserved sauce. Add the tofu to the wok and cook, stirring and turning the pieces regularly until browned on all sides. This may take about five minutes. Remove and set on kitchen paper to drain.
Place the onion in the wok and cook 2-3 minutes until beginning to soften. Reduce the heat and add the ginger, garlic and chilli. Cook, stirring constantly, for a minute. Increase the heat to medium-high and throw in the capsicum, mushrooms and broccoli, along with 1 tbsp water. Cook, covered, for five minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Add the snowpeas, stir well and cook for a minute.
Now pour in the marinade and cook, stirring, for thirty seconds or until beginning to thicken. Finally, add the tofu and pineapple and cook for three minutes or until heated through.
Serve with rice, noodles or as a stand-alone dish.
Source: Inspired by Eating Well