Coconut Caramel Braised Tofu

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So…tofu. It’s high in protein, low in saturated fat: a big thumbs up for heart-healthy nutrition.

But it’s low in taste—which can be both a plus and a minus. AND ALSO, for me, the biggest minus of all: How on earth do you cook it?  I have always found tofu intimidating. There’s that ‘press’ thing that you have to do. And I just find it confounding: do you bake it, grill it, sauté/stir-fry it?  About the only thing I knew I didn’t want to do heart-health-wise was to deep fry it (though air-frying is probably great but I’m not there yet.)

A few weekends ago, I read an inspiring article about Raghavan Iyer, a scientist and cookbook author battling colorectal cancer. Featured in the article, He Taught Americans to Cook Indian Food. Now He’s on His Final Chapter, was a recipe for Pan Fried Tofu With Red Curry Paste. With eggplant and curry—both favorite ingredients of mine—and directions that looked straightforward, I decided to make it.

Step one for me was to figure out how to best ‘press’ tofu (see Pressing Tofu Tips, below). The recipe explains how to press tofu, though what I did was slightly different (I cubed the tofu before pressing). Usually the first time I make a recipe I follow it exactly but not this time, as I didn’t have all the ingredients. So I used one small (regular/purple) eggplant, no bamboo shoots, and I left out the basil garnish. I also used light coconut milk to lower the saturated fat. When I make it again, I’ll cut back on the red curry paste (2 TB of jarred curry paste is pretty spicy) and substitute some green beans or broccoli for the potato. Recipe PDF on my Recipes page. If you like curry, give this recipe a try.

Since that went well, I decided to try another tofu recipe this past weekend. It was totally different: a sweet rather than spicy profile. Kay Chun’s Coconut-Caramel Braised Tofu was also easy to make, and it was a big hit with our friends Chris and Dave.  I made several changes from this recipe also, after reading the COMMENTS section (always read the comments section!).  Here are modifications I made:

  • I roasted a package of Trader Joe’s ‘asparagus, mushroom, red onion’ stir fry to add more vegetables. Just slick with olive oil, add a bit of salt and pepper then roast at 425 for about 20 minutes, then set aside.
  • For the string beans, I steamed them for 5 minutes first then set aside. So they were ‘par boiled’ before sautéing them in step 1.
  • I doubled the coconut-caramel sauce. Use 1 can of coconut milk (thus eliminating the problem of not using full can!), 4 T of low-sodium soy sauce, 3 T of white miso, 2 T of turbinado sugar, and 2 T of lime juice (plus wedges for serving).

    Mine wasn’t anywhere near as pretty…but delish!

  • Instead of leaving the tofu in the skillet, I removed it and then added it back in after sautéing the shallot/garlic/ ginger and then adding the sauce ingredients. Once the miso was dissolved, I added back in the lightly browned tofu and all the vegetables. Probably I should have reduced the sauce first but I didn’t, and it was fine!
  • I put chopped peanuts and diced cilantro on the table to add a bit of fresh flavor and crunch along with the lime (again, from the comments!)
  • The recipe doesn’t remind you to COOK THE RICE so you’ll want to do that first. I put brown jasmine rice in the rice cooker before I started cooking.
  • My friend Chris brought a salad, which was a great accompaniment.
  • You’ll want to cut everything up (mise en place) ahead of time.
  • There is a good amount of saturated fat in this recipe, as written, because of the full-fat coconut milk. I’ll try it with low-fast coconut milk next time. But still, it’s better than eating red meat and the low-fat coconut milk should work fine.
  • If you prefer a PDF, find this recipe on my Recipes page.

After a lot of looking around, I found this article to be the most helpful: How To Stir-Fry Tofu.  In it, Emma Christensen (who always has good ideas) says to “Cut the tofu into cubes (it presses more evenly that way) and press for at least 20 minutes…” which I found incredibly helpful. Also, you want to use extra-firm tofu when stir-frying as it has the least water to start. The entire article was informative and the pictures very helpful.

If you are not a subscriber to New York Times’ Cooking, PDFs of both recipes are on my RECIPES page.
Or: Red Curry.   Coconut-Caramel.

I hope you try one or both of these recipes. If you do, let me know how it works out.


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