Vegetarian entrees are the new meat and potatoes of 2009. What I mean is that more non-vegetarians, like myself, are beginning to cook vegetarian meals several times each week, not in an act of defiant meat avoidance, but because we like the way the food tastes and how it makes us feel.
Last week, my colleague Charmian Christie of Christie's Corner posted a request from one of her readers for a lactose-free, vegetarian meal for her family of 5. The comments and suggestions flew back and forth, and today Charmian, Elizabeth Kricfalusi from Embrace Adventure, and I are all posting vegetarian entrees for our readers. (Charmian's recipe is here. Elizabeth's is here.)
For my part, I offer up a classic Asian stir-fry. This may be old-hat to many of you, so if you're a stir-fry pro, feel free to jump ahead to the recipe.
Can you throw any old vegetables into a wok and turn out a slam-dunk dish? Not quite. You'll want to avoid those that take too long to cook (sweet potatoes, for example, or beets) and stick to veggies that pair nicely with Asian accompaniments. Beyond that, let the contents of your fridge guide you.
*Think about color, texture, and flavor as you gather your ingredients. A creative nod to all three will produce the most appealing meal.
*Cut everything into relatively small pieces for quick cooking.
*Have ingredients prepped and ready before heating up your wok or skillet.
*Choose an oil like canola, peanut, or garlic oil for high-heat cooking.
*If you like your tofu with a nice brown crust, stir-fry it alone first, and then remove it to a plate before adding the vegetables.
*Don't overload your wok. Doing so will cause your vegetables to steam and lose texture, character, and personality.
*Never underestimate the power of garnishes. Sprinkling your creation with cashews, peanuts, fresh herbs, and/or toasted sesame seeds adds a top layer of crunch and an added hit of flavor.
*Drizzle the lot with sesame oil, soy sauce, or both just before serving, and keep the bottle at the table.
Recipe for Vegetable Stir-Fry with Crisp Tofu and Toasted Cashews
The mix of vegetables in this dish can be swapped at will. I simply used what I had on hand, but you can make as many substitutions as you like. Just remember that harder vegetables will take longer to cook than softer ones, and that you really want to maintain each component's crunch and character. If you're using a wok or skillet to which food has a history of sticking, you may need to use slightly more oil.
4 teaspoons canola, peanut, or garlic oil, divided
4 ounces tofu, pressed dry with paper towels, cubed
1/4 cup unsalted cashews
1/4 yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
8 ounces broccoli florets, cut into small pieces
4 ounces julienned carrots
2 ounces julienned daikon
2 teaspoons soy sauce, plus additional for seasoning at the end
2 ounces bok choy, baby bok choy, you choy, or any choy you like, chopped
1/4 cup frozen peas (no need to defrost)
2 green onions, cut on the bias into 1-inch lengths
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
Cooked brown rice, for serving
Heat a well-seasoned wok or very large skillet over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes. Swirl in 2 teaspoons of the oil. Add the tofu and brown on all sides, flipping frequently, for about 3 minutes. Add the cashews and stir-fry with the tofu a minute longer until the nuts and tofu have colored. Remove both to a plate and set aside.
Swirl in the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring, for two minutes. Add ginger and continue stirring. Add broccoli, carrots, daikon, and soy sauce. Raise heat to high and stir-fry for about 4 minutes. Add choy, peas, and green onions and continue stir-frying 1 to 2 minutes longer, or until vegetables are brightly colored and crisp-tender.
Add tofu and cashews back to the wok, tossing until heated through. Drizzle with the sesame oil and additional soy sauce to taste. Serve immediately, over cooked brown rice.