Monday, February 10, 2014
Memories of Sichuan discovery inspire a comforting dinner
To this day I remember - at least in general terms - my first Sichuan experience, a spicy green-pepper and tofu stir-fry in a fiery red sauce, enjoyed in a New York City storefront somewhere within sight of the north end of Washington Square Park. I loved the dish, and loved the tofu; and without ever having the formal recipe, I've been making something like it ever since. So it was tonight: Nostalgia in a bowl of spicy-hot, healthy Sichuanese-style comfort food.
Recipe? What's a recipe?
Julienne a green bell pepper, a sweet onion and, because I had it, a stick of celery. Mince plenty of garlic and ginger, and flavor them with red and black pepper and a little salt. Make a seasoning mix by chopping a tomato with its juices (I used Red Gold canned whole tomatoes as my preferred option to fresh in an Eastern February) and flavoring it with a little soy sauce, a squirt of lemon juice, a dash of brown sugar, a tablespoon of Heinz Chili Sauce (a "secret ingredient" for umami, a teaspoon (more or less according to taste) of fiery sambal oelek; and enough water to bring it up to one cup. Cut one-half of a block of firm or extra firm tofu into 1/2-inch dice. For thickening, dissolve 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch in a little water.
Stir-fry the onions in a wok in a little coconut oil, then add the green pepper and celery, and stir-fry until they're bright and starting to brown. Add the ginger and garlic mix, stir briefly, then reduce heat and add the tomato-and-spice mix. Bring back to a simmer, add the tofu dice, stir and cook for a moment or two until the flavors blend. Thicken to taste with some of the cornstarch (use a little at a time and don't overdo), and serve with steaming white rice.