What is it about the holy kitchen trinity of lemongrass, coriander and lime? I'm considering renaming this blog in accordance with an unwavering devotion to all three. These are the flavours I find myself reaching for automatically, and I wonder, at times, if there's a support group.
Now, edging ever-closer to October, I find myself also wondering if there's a some sort of Tofu Addiction group I should contact. An entirely unexpected development given the sort of vague indifference to it displayed in these pages at the beginning of the year.
One of the things I love most about Deborah Madison - too long a list to share here - is her ability to understand precisely what makes a plate of vegetables sing so sweetly. Despite the slightly irksome title, This Can't Be Tofu! (just not convinced that exclamation mark works...) has proven time and again that tofu is best treated as its own, unique entity rather than a substitute for fleshier things. Things I have (mostly) left behind. This way tofu becomes something else and, in the process, downright addictive.
I cannot be stopped.
Coriander-haters - heathens that you are - beware. The following dish is heady with the stuff, but I implore you to make this recipe your own. As a blueprint for other, coriander-less tofu-based meals, it's resoundingly successful. Ditch the coriander for parsley, up the chilli and serve with juicy wedges of lemon rather than lime. Or, come summer, substitute handfuls of basil leaves and pair with slow-roasted, garlic-studded tomato quarters, caramel and sticky from a generous dousing of balsamic and olive oil. Top with toasted pine nuts and eat beneath sunny skies. Right now though, this delicate, herbal dish, a combination of succulence and crunch, heralds all things Spring - rising sap, bursting blossom-y goodness and, best of all, the bounty that is asparagus season. Dive on in.
Tofu rubbed with lemongrass and coriander feeds 2-3
As is so often written, don't let the long list of ingredients fool you, though you should know, now, that the tofu needs 30 minutes, preferably a day in the fridge, to rest in its fragrant 'rub'. After that, things happen quickly. The rub is exceptional. I have been known to lick fingers, spoons, even - and I can only just bring myself to admit this publicly - the mortar clean. Or is it the pestle? (Actually, I licked both clean this time. So clearly the question is rhetorical.) Adapted from Deborah Madison.
500g (1 lb) of firm tofu
2 stalks of lemongrass
3-4 cloves of garlic
1 shallot (golden eschallot)
A thumb of fresh ginger
1 bunch of coriander (cilantro), washed and drained well
2 generous pinches of chilli powder
2 generous pinches of ground turmeric
1 tablespoon of granulated sugar
Peanut or macadamia oil
2-3 bundles of asparagus, about 500g (1 lb)
2 tablespoons of dry-roasted peanuts (unsalted)
A couple of limes, halved
Drain the tofu, then wrap in a clean tea towel. Weight down with something heavy, say, a dinner plate and a couple of tins from the pantry. Set aside.
Discard the outer layers of the lemongrass - be ruthless - and keep only the tender white parts. Chop finely. Peel and chop the garlic, shallot and ginger. Separate the coriander stems from the leaves. Chop the stems and set the leaves aside. Using either a mortar and pestle or a food processor, make a rough paste of the lemongrass, garlic, shallot, ginger, coriander stems, spices, sugar, a generous pinch of salt and 2 teaspoons of oil.
Unwrap the tofu. Cut it into 8 slices, then cut each slice diagonally into two triangles. Rub the surfaces generously with the 'rub' paste and rest on a plate for at least 30 minutes (see intro).
Heat a generous tablespoon of oil in a frying pan. Carefully scrape off the excess paste from the tofu, but reserve it for the asparagus. When the pan is hot, arrange the tofu in a single layer and cook over a medium heat for about 5 minutes per side. Sprinkle with a little salt and set aside.
Meanwhile, snap off the woody ends of the asparagus and peel if need be. Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil and simmer the asparagus until tender- 3 or 4 minutes should do it. Drain well and roll while still hot in the remaining lemongrass rub.
To serve, arrange the tofu and asparagus on a platter, spoon over any remaining 'rub', scatter with the coriander leaves, the peanuts and serve with lime halves for spritzing.