Just a few blocks from our new apartment is a cute little farmer’s market filled to the brim with beautiful, local produce. I always think it’s fun to go on Saturday mornings with my husband, picking out interesting items that will help dictate what we eat the rest of the week. A few weeks ago our new star ingredient was Thai basil. It’s one of those items that can transform a ho-hum stir fry into a dish that actually tastes like it’s from a Thai restaurant (or as I told my husband, “This tastes like legit Thai food!”). Wonderfully aromatic, it has a slight licorice flavor that really differentiates it from regular basil. This Thai basil tofu stir fry is one of my favorite ways to use the herb, as the flavor of the basil steeps into all the veggies and tofu so nicely.
I realized that for some reason, this is the first recipe on OSK that features tofu. A vegetarian food blog without tofu? Very strange, indeed. Although I have always loved tofu at restaurants, I have only recently perfected the way I cook it at home. I hated how it would stick to a pan so easily, and I don’t think there’s anything worse than mushy, watery, flavorless tofu. I’d rather go without it. Then my mom showed me her way of cooking tofu: bake it until it becomes wonderfully firm and crispy, making it just as delicious as if you had fried it (but much healthier). With a couple of really easy steps, I’ve created tofu that I actually can’t stop eating. Here’s what I do:
- One of the most important steps to making this tofu is buying the right kind. I buy extra firm tofu rather than silken tofu, and if I can find it, I buy the kind that is vacuum packed rather than in water. The vacuum-packed kind has a much lower water content, which makes a big difference in how crispy your tofu will become.
- If you can only find the kind in water, no worries – simply drain the tofu for a few minutes. I put the tofu in a strainer and then put something heavy on top (a pan will do) to press all of the liquid out.
- After you have squeezed as much water as possible out of your tofu, cut it into thin slices about 1/4 inch thick. I find that slices of tofu crisp up better than thicker cubes. I then like cutting the slices in half at a diagonal angle.
- Add all of the tofu slices to a bowl, and drizzle in a small amount of oil. I use peanut oil, but any clear oil that can withstand high temperatures would be fine. Gently rub the oil onto each slice of tofu.
- Place the tofu onto a non-stick baking sheet. Add a couple of drops of soy sauce (some salt would be fine too, if you aren’t adding the tofu to an Asian dish) to each piece, followed by a pinch of corn starch. The corn starch helps the tofu crisp up.
- Bake in the oven at 400 degrees for about 25-30 minutes, flipping each slice halfway through.
- Serve with stir-fry, curry, or any other dish where you want some extra protein. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an Asian dish!
I love how the tofu soaks up all the wonderful flavors of this stir-fry in particular. The sauce is incredibly simple, but it manages to be sweet, salty, and spicy all at the same time. I use thinly sliced red pepper, bok choy and baby corn as the veggies, although you could throw in whatever veggies you have on hand.
I really hope you can find Thai basil and Thai chilis. If you can’t find them at your usual grocery store, farmer’s markets are a good bet; you could also try Whole Foods or an Asian supermarket. You can substitute regular basil if necessary, but it won’t have exactly the same flavor as this dish. And if you can’t find Thai chilis, a serrano chili or simply a large pinch of red pepper flakes could work instead.
- Crispy tofu (recipe above)
- 1 cup uncooked grain of choice (I use white or brown rice for this)
- 1 tablespoon peanut oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1-2 Thai chilis (depending on your heat tolerance), seeds removed and minced
- 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 1 can baby corn, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 4 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- Large bunch of baby bok choy, roughly chopped
- About 2 cups Thai basil, stems removed
- Cook the crispy tofu based on the directions in the post above. Cook your grain of choice according to package directions.
- When your tofu and grains have about 5 minutes left in their cooking time, start the stir fry. Add the peanut oil to a large pan and turn the heat onto medium. Add the minced garlic for about a minute, followed by the Thai chile.
- After about another minute, add the red bell pepper, baby corn, tamari, sesame oil, and brown sugar. Stir well to dissolve the brown sugar. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the red pepper slices have softened.
- Add the baby bok choy, Thai basil, and crispy tofu. Cook for about 2 more minutes, until the bok choy and basil are beginning to wilt.
- Serve immediately with your grain of choice.