Meat Free Monday: Crispy tofu, broccoli, and rice

This meal – crispy tofu, steamed or blanched broccoli, and plain brown rice – is one that brings me right back to my childhood, and in many ways I think it epitomises hippie vegetarian food for a lot of people (although vegetarianism is no longer the preserve of hippies). There’s the tofu, the brown rice, the lightly cooked cruciferous vegetables. This is healthy, wholesome food, plain (but not tasteless) and uncomplicated – I imagine this simplicity is actually what appealed to me as a child. But for all its simple lack of pretension, it has much to please an adult palate.

The quintessential hippie vegetarian triumvirate: tofu, cruciferous vegetables, brown rice. I love it!
The quintessential hippie vegetarian triumvirate: tofu, cruciferous vegetables, brown rice. I love it!

Firstly, the meal offers a contrast of taste: nutty rice, milky tofu and sweet green broccoli. There’s also a satisfying interplay of textures between the grains, slightly firm but silkily yielding vegetables, and the crunchy tofu coating which gives way to the jiggly beancurd beneath. For me this is a standby recipe: I don’t make it every week, by any means, but it’s always there in the back of my mind if I have a pack of tofu sitting in the fridge.

Serve with soy sauce, if wished
Serve with soy sauce, if wished

Crispy tofu with brown rice and broccoli
Serves two

  • One pack firm tofu. I usually get the easily-available Cauldron brand, which is 396g. If your packet is slightly larger or smaller, it makes little difference
  • Cornflour (also known as corn starch), enough to dredge
  • Vegetable, corn or canola oil, for frying (I used to have a soft spot for Crisp ‘n Dry when I lived near Chinatown, where it was most readily available, but really any will do)
  • Brown rice (you can use white rice if you prefer, of course – just adjust the cooking method and times)
  • Broccoli (the childhood classic) or any other green vegetable of choice
  • Soy sauce, to serve (optional)
  1. First, you will need to press the tofu. Pressing tofu gets rid of the excess moisture, which will ensure the end result is crisp, and makes the texture firmer and more toothsome. Remove the tofu from the packaging and drain. Pat dry using paper towels. Place several layers of paper towels on a plate and place the slab of tofu onto the paper towels. Place several layers of kitchen roll on top of the tofu. Place a heavy weight on top of the tofu – I usually use a cast iron frying pan but a saucepan or even a chopping board weighed down with tins or a cookbook will work. Leave for 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, cook the rice. I do this by volume rather than weight, using American cup measures, and use the absorption method for rice. Measure out 125ml (1/2 cup) brown rice into a saucepan. Bring 250ml (1 cup) water to the boil in a kettle. Place the saucepan of rice on the lowest flame or heat setting, pour the boiling water into the rice, stir once, and cover the saucepan. Leave to simmer over a low flame for 25-40 minutes (the package of rice will estimate a cooking time but check after 25 minutes for sure – a lot of brands seems to overestimate the cooking time, and you may need to add a bit of extra water if cooking for longer.
    1. Note One: the rice will stay warm for quite a while after cooking, so don’t worry if you haven’t finished cooking the tofu or vegetables.
    2. Note Two: if you think you will need more rice, the method and ratio of water to rice (2:1) remains the same, so it’s very easy to scale up or down.
  3. Take the pressed tofu and cut it into cubes or, more likely/accurately, cuboids. Take a large plate and add a liberal amount of cornflour. In batches, toss the cuboids of tofu through the cornflour so that all sides are evenly coated. You do not need to dip the tofu in egg white or anything similar because, despite the moisture having been pressed out of it, it will still be a touch damp.
  4. Take a large frying pan, pour in a few glugs of the vegetable oil and let warm up over a medium heat. Add the coated tofu cuboids – you will probably need to do this in batches to avoid the pan from becoming overcrowded, resulting in sad, soggy tofu. Fry over a medium to medium-low heat for a couple of minutes on each side so that they cook evenly. Transfer each cooked batch to a paper towel-lined plate to absorb any excess oil. Turn them only when ready to flip to another side; you can leave them on their own to set properly in the meantime.
    1. Note Three: The cooked tofu will not turn a different colour; although the cornflour shell may appear a little more golden, it won’t brown substantively (if it does, the temperature of the oil is too high). The cornflour will also have set lightly and feel firm and mostly dry to the touch. If it feels very oily, your oil is not at a high enough temperature, so adjust that before proceeding.
  5. Meanwhile, cook the broccoli. I usually just cut the head into florets and peel and chop up the stalk, then add to a saucepan of boiling water and cook briefly, 8-10 minutes. Drain and set aside if you are still frying batches of tofu.
  6. Once finished, serve up the rice, tofu and broccoli, divided over two plates. Serving with a little dipping bowl of soy sauce for the tofu and/or broccoli is very good (though honestly, most of my life I have eaten of this plain. It’s just how I like it).
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