Ginger Tofu

Herbs and spices enhance a dish in a way that nothing else can. Spices add layers of flavour whilst herbs provide a freshness that lifts a dish to another level. The difference between a herb and a spice is the region of a plant where they are found. Herbs are the leaves of a plant (like basil or mint) whereas spices can be the root (ginger), the seeds (caraway) or the bark (cinnamon). Some species of plant can provide both herbs and spices like coriander from which we use both the leaves and the seeds. The powdered coriander you buy is made by grinding the seeds.

While herbs and spices are found mostly in savoury foods, there are several which are used in sweet dishes too. People are often afraid to use herbs in desserts which is understandable, herbs have relatively strong flavours and you wouldn’t normally put leaves in a pudding but sometimes it just works. Basil pairs beautifully with white chocolate, peaches, strawberries and mango; mint pairs with dark chocolate; sage and thyme work wonderfully with citrus flavours; saffron gives an incredible yellow colour to a dish and of course, sweet tea flavoured dishes – especially matcha green tea with white chocolate – are very in at the moment. Spices, on the other hand, are used all the time in sweet treats without anyone batting an eyelid: chilli chocolate, gingerbread, cinnamon rolls and pfeffernüsse immediately come to mind. Of course we cannot leave out one of the most common spices used today, in fact this item is so common that it is never really considered a spice, cocoa. Chocolate comes from the seeds of a plant making it a spice!

One of my favourite spices is ginger. It has grown on me a lot over the past few years and now I love it. It’s such a versatile flavouring, you can use it dried or fresh in dishes to give them a spicy kick without making them too hot or just use a little to pack a dish full of flavour. The ginger that we know and love is the root of the plant Zingiber Officinale. It is related to galangal (which it can be substituted for in recipes) as well as turmeric – a spice which provides a vibrant yellow colour at a more affordable price than saffron – and cardamom although we only eat the seeds of the cardamom flower. The zingy nature of ginger makes it a delicious flavour to pair with garlic and chilli. Many of my dinners at university were flavoured with some combination of these three, the proportions adjusted depending on how I was feeling at the time.

The recipe below has ginger as a dominant flavour and when mixed with the soy, honey and sesame oil, creates a sauce which is incredibly more-ish. This dish is amazing both hot and cold so can be whipped up for dinner and then the leftovers can be taken to work and eaten for lunch the next day.

Quick disclaimer: Whilst people get very worked up about reheated rice or eating it cold, they never seem to worry about it when eating sushi and other such dishes. Of course there is a chance that reheated rice can give you food poisoning, there is a chance that any type of food could give it to you. The main issue with rice is a bacterium which lives on the surface of dried rice and isn’t killed by cooking – in fact, it’s the cooling cooked rice that it feeds best on so the moment the rice is cold, place it into the fridge and you should be alright for a few days. I wouldn’t advise keeping rice for more than two days but if you do, make sure you reheat the rice fully until it is steaming. I have never had a problem with rice but it never hurts to be careful.

Enjoy the recipe. This sauce can be used for chicken and beef too if you aren’t a fan of tofu, just substitute them in when cooking and make sure to cook all the meat through properly.

Ginger Tofu

Time: 30 minutes

Servings: 3

Cost per serving: around £1.50

40g peeled ginger

2 cloves garlic

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 ½ tbsp sesame oil

1 tbsp honey

400g firm/extra firm tofu (not silken)

2 ½ tbsp vegetable oil

1 tsp cornflour mixed with 1 tbsp water

1-1.5 cups rice

1 onion

1 carrot

80g edamame/soya beans

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp Sushi vinegar mixed with 1 tsp sugar and ¼ tsp salt (optional)

1tbsp chilli oil (optional)

Place the rice into a saucepan and rinse a few times by half filling the saucepan with water, swilling the rice around until the water turns cloudy and then draining it.

For one cup of rice, add one and a half cups of water to the pan (scale this up for more rice) and bring to the boil over a high heat. Turn the heat down and simmer the rice, covered for about 15-20 minutes.

(If using a rice cooker, rinse the rice and put it into the cooker with the instructed amount of water and turn the rice cooker into cook mode – if it finishes early, it will keep the rice warm.)

Drain the tofu and place it between two boards. Press down on the top board and drain off any excess liquid that comes out of the tofu.

Cut the tofu into small cubes, I tend to do one horizontal cut through the block and then several along each edge giving me around 40 small pieces.

Heat two tablespoons of the oil in a large, non-stick frying pan. It is important to use a non-stick pan as tofu can be a real pain to cook in stainless-steel.

Add the tofu to the oil and leave to fry – I like to add salt and pepper to the tofu while it is frying to season it.

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While the tofu is cooking, grate the garlic and the ginger into a small bowl.

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Stir the honey, soy sauce and one tablespoon of the sesame oil into the ginger and garlic mix.

Once the tofu turns golden on the base and starts to go crispy, turn it over and cook the other side. It will take about five minutes per side to start going crispy.

While the second side is cooking, finely slice the onion into half moons. Thinly slice the carrots into two inch long thin strips. A julienne peeler is ideal for this.

Once the top and bottom of the tofu are crispy, add the sauce mix along with one quarter of a cup (60ml) of water. Be careful as it will spit when you add it to the pan.

Allow the mix to bubble for a minute to cook the garlic and ginger before pouring in the cornflour slurry and stirring to coat the tofu.

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Pour the tofu into a dish and use a spatula to scrape out as much of the sauce as possible.

Add the remaining vegetable and sesame oil to the frying pan and heat.

Tip in the onion, carrot and edamame beans and fry until the beans are cooked. This will ensure that the onion and carrot still have a little crunch.

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I like to add a tablespoon of chilli oil at this point to give the vegetables a little kick.

When the rice is cooked, drain off any water that may be left, place a lid onto the saucepan and allow to steam for a minute to make sure the rice is dry.

Stir together the sushi vinegar, salt and sugar. It may be necessary to heat this in the microwave for ten seconds or so to help everything dissolve.

Pour the seasoning over the rice and gently stir it through.

This can be eaten hot or allowed to cool and then taken for lunches at work or on the go. The seasoned rice will keep in the fridge for a few days (long enough to eat it all safely) and the tofu and veg will also keep in airtight containers. Cold tofu tends to have a slightly firmer texture than warm tofu; personally I prefer the former.

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All packed up in a lunch box and ready to go.

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you like tofu, check out my delicious tofu curry – the tricks in it can be applied to any curry to make them vegetarian/vegan or if you would like something a little bit sweeter, check out how to make some delicious, crumbly shortbread.

Have a good one and I will see you next week with a recipe for an annual favourite – the honey cake.

H

Smoked Salmon Risotto

Smoked salmon is definitely a delicacy. It’s relatively expensive which isn’t ideal because I can easily sit down and eat an entire packet in one go. The trick with smoked salmon is making it go further and putting it into a risotto is a fantastic way to flavour a large amount of food without needing too much of the fish itself.

Smoking food became popular as a good way of preserving it. Upping the salt content and decreasing the moisture makes it very hard for bacteria to grow in the food helping it keep longer before spoiling. The process of smoking food has probably been around since humans evolved. Food would be stored off the ground to keep it away from pests but the lack of ventilation in the dwellings led to the build up of smoke at the top of the houses – where the food was stored – and thus the food was smoked. Once people realised that smoked foods lasted far longer than those which were unsmoked, smoking became a widely used preservation method. As it was functional rather than for flavour, large amounts of salt were used to draw out the moisture and the smoking time was often days long. As infrastructure improved, food could be stored in fridges and cold houses. As a result, the quantity of smoke and salt used to preserve foods declined leading to what we have today.

There are several different methods of smoking; the most common types being hot and cold smoking. The process of cold smoking does not cook the meat and because of that, brining and curing must be done before the food is smoked. This is what gives us the classic smoked salmon that you see in a supermarket, thinly sliced and still a bright pink colour. In contrast to this, hot smoking cooks the fish. This means that the food is safe to eat without further cooking as may sometimes be necessary with cold smoking.

The first time I tried this recipe, I was having dinner at a friend’s house and we ended up cooking together. I must admit I was a bit dubious as the idea of placing smoked salmon into a hot saucepan of rice worried me greatly; surely the salmon would just go hard and leathery and lose its flavour? That is the beauty of this recipe. If done right, the latent heat in the risotto should cook the chopped salmon just enough to change its colour whilst still allowing it to remain soft. The remaining salmon is served on top of the risotto keeping it from the heat and therefore preventing it cooking.

This dish really is a treat so I hope you enjoy it.

 

Smoked Salmon Risotto

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Serves 2

Cost per portion: around £2.40

 

1 small onion finely diced

1 clove of garlic minced

175g risotto rice (I like to use Arborio risotto rice)

750ml vegetable stock

Zest of one lemon

Juice of half a lemon

1 tbsp chopped parsley

60g mascarpone

100g smoked salmon

1 tbsp oil

 

Sautee the onion in the oil for five minutes until it starts to soften and goes translucent.

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Add the garlic and rice and fry for another minute.

Pour in half of the stock and stir everything together. Wait for the rice to absorb the stock stirring regularly.

Once the stock is all absorbed, add half of the remaining liquid and stir it through.

Repeat with the remaining stock.

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After the first addition of stock vs. after the risotto is cooked.

If the rice isn’t fully cooked at this point, add another tablespoon of water and continue to cook over a medium heat stirring regularly to ensure that all the rice is cooked evenly.

Once the rice is almost cooked through, add the mascarpone, lemon juice, zest and the parsley and stir through. Cook for another minute.

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Remove the risotto from the heat and cover.

Chop about three quarters of the smoked salmon into small pieces.

Stir these through the risotto, the remaining heat should cook the salmon but not make it leathery.

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Serve the risotto immediately and top with the remaining salmon.

If you so wish, garnish the risotto with parsley and lemon zest.

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I hope you enjoyed this recipe. It’s a luxurious meal yet still quite light and doesn’t leave you feeling bloated. If you fancy a bit of a more fiery dinner, check out how to make my spicy enchiladas or if you are looking for something a little sweeter, why not make a carrot cake? It’s big, moist and packed full of flavour.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a slightly more basic recipe for some delicious biscuits!

H

Basic Curry

Tofu is not known for its wonderful flavour. Or texture. Or visual appeal. In fact, most people’s first reaction to the word is some sort of grimace. This probably stems from the fact that, in England, one of the more available forms of tofu is ‘silken tofu’. This has a very gelatinous texture and is incredibly fragile, in fact I have found it almost impossible to cook silken tofu without it all falling apart and becoming some sort of mush – though this is probably just me. Silken tofu is created by curdling soy milk but the liquid is curdled inside the carton in which it proceeds to be sold, whereas standard firm tofu is curdled and then the liquid is strained off before the curds are pressed into a block.
With records dating back to the Chinese Han dynasty, tofu has been around for about 2000 years. One of the leading theories is that it used to be made by curdling soy milk using sea water – the impurities in the water acted as the coagulants needed – and some forms of tofu are still produced like this today. The production of tofu spread around eastern Asia and it became a popular meat substitute as it is far cheaper.
There are several different types of tofu ranging from extra-soft to extra-firm. Extra-soft tofu has so much liquid in it that it barely holds its own shape – think of the texture of ricotta cheese. The next firmness is standard silken tofu. This tends to be used in desserts and sauces or smoothies as it can be used as a substitute for dairy and eggs. When blended into sauces or smoothies, it gives them a very creamy texture.
For tofu to be firmer than silken tofu, it must be pressed during production. This involves straining out the soy bean curds and then squeezing them to remove as much liquid as possible. The tofu produced from this has a much harder texture and tends to be what I use for cooking. You can press it at home to drive off even more of the liquid by wrapping the block in a tea towel and placing a heavy object on top – I tend to use either a pan or an encyclopaedia. The tofu can then be cooked in a variety of ways to give it the texture you want. Extra-firm tofu is incredibly dry. It is a little rubbery and is firm enough to be sliced very thinly without the pieces breaking. It is sometimes shredded and used instead of noodles in dishes.
Standard tofu is bland. It has basically no flavour whatsoever. This makes it perfect for absorbing flavours from other things so you can always marinade tofu in soy sauce or flavoured oils after it has been pressed to give it some taste. When I bake tofu before adding it to curries and such, I like to add some salt, pepper and sometimes a little curry powder before I put it in the oven as that way it will have a natural taste. The other way to avoid this lack of flavour is continuing to cook your curry for five or so minutes after the tofu has been added as it gives a chance for the moisture from the curry to soften the tofu a little bit and also infuse the flavours of the sauce into it.
Nowadays tofu is only really used as a meat substitute Europe and America. In eastern Asia, it tends to be viewed as just another ingredient and is often used alongside meats or seafood in dishes. A lot of people, especially in England, are not exposed to well cooked tofu when they are younger resulting in the reactions I mentioned at the beginning. With proper seasoning and cooking and, most importantly, the correct type of tofu, I believe most people would appreciate it far more and use tofu when cooking on a more regular basis.

Basic Curry (Vegan)

Prep time: 10 minutes Cook time: 40 minutes Serves: 2
Price per portion: £1.30 (for tofu)

Ingredients:
1 block of tofu (400g)
1 large onion
500ml vegetable stock
1 ½ tbsp. curry powder
1 tsp turmeric
2 cloves of garlic – chopped
1 ½ tsp cornflour mixed with 3 tsp water
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
Salt and pepper
Oil

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (200 C).
Drain the tofu and if you have time, press it (this step is optional).

Cut the tofu up into small cubes, I tend to do one horizontal slice through it and then cut it to make cubes which are around a centimetre a centimetre and a half long. The tofu will shrink in the oven.

Line a tray with baking parchment or a silicone mat and spread the tofu out on it.

Drizzle over a little oil or if you use a cooking spray, a couple of sprays of that will also work well.

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Season with a little salt and pepper and place in the oven for 40 minutes remembering to turn the tofu every 10 minutes.

After the tofu has been cooking for 20 minutes you can start on the curry.

Chop the onion into wedges (I tend to go for eight of them).

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large pan or wok and add the onion.

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Once the onion starts going translucent, add the stock, garlic and spices.

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Simmer for 15 minutes while the tofu finishes off in the oven.

Stir in the soy sauce, sugar and cornflour mix and let the curry sauce thicken. If it is still

very thin, add some more corn flour but if the sauce has become too thick, add some more stock.

Take the tofu out of the oven and pour it into the curry and stir through.

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Let the curry simmer for another two minutes to so the tofu can absorb some of the flavour and then serve with sticky rice.

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This curry keeps very well so if you are only cooking for yourself, you will have leftovers to eat the next day too. I like to use medium curry powder but if you like a spicy or particularly mild curry, there are different versions available. You can also eat this curry with noodles or bread.

A way to make the curry even cheaper on a budget is just don’t use the tofu! This will also drastically reduce the cooking time and you can replace it with whatever you want. Cubes of carrot work well and you can always throw in water chestnuts and bamboo shoots at the end too to bulk it out. Obviously you can also use meat too but make sure to sear it in the wok before you add the onions and the stock to it.

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. For another easy meal, check out my One Pot Pasta or if you are looking to do something a little more flamboyant, why not make yourself a Chocolate and Caramel Cake filled with lashings of cream and delicious caramel.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a yummy shortcrust tart.

H

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Mushroom Risotto

From curry, to sushi, to risotto, rice is used around the world. It is one of the most versatile carbohydrates and this has led to its use in a myriad of dishes. The various varieties of rice display drastically different characteristics when cooked so there is a type of rice for almost any of your culinary desires!

Risottos are usually made with a medium grain rice where the grains are only just over double as long as they are wide. When cooked properly on a hob or steamed, medium grain rice comes out very soft and fluffy and the cooked grains stick together so can be moulded. If the rice is not washed beforehand, the starch in it comes out during cooking and makes the water cloudy (or in the case of risotto, makes the final meal ultra creamy). I find that Arborio is the easiest variety of risotto rice to get hold of however, any medium or medium/short grain rice will normally work for making a risotto. Medium grain rice can also be used when making sushi as the grains clump making the sushi stick together.

Short grain rice is normally used in rice pudding and paella. The grains are so short that they are almost as long as they are wide (whereas long grain rice is almost five times as long as it is wide). The starchiness of short grain rice is what gives dishes their creaminess. Long grain rice is far less starchy than its shorter grained counterparts and the grains do not clump when cooking. As a result, it can be boiled easily and then just drained and served.

Rice is becoming more and more popular as large numbers of people are trying to avoid gluten. This has led to the more unusual types of rice becoming increasingly available. These include wild rices and Chinese black rice. Most ‘wild’ rice is actually cultivated but it is still possible to find speciality shops that will sell genuine wild rice. Brown rice is very popular at the moment as it undergoes less processing than white rice. It has a nuttier flavour and a slightly different texture however there are concerns about it as the rice bran (which gives the rice its colour) contains arsenic leading to some countries having regulations controlling the types of brown rice sold!

Risotto is a rather labour-intensive dish. It requires constant stirring (though I have found that it can be left for 30 seconds or so) to prevent it catching on the bottom of the pan and parts being overcooked while others are raw. It has a wonderful creamy texture which can be achieved without using any dairy at all so is perfect for those with lactose intolerance.

It is however delicious and is bound to wow anyone you cook it for – even yourself. The versatility of risotto is astounding. You can flavour it with almost anything. I usually use mushrooms and sometimes chicken though I have also made it with smoked salmon which surprisingly, works incredibly well!

 

Mushroom Risotto

Serves 3 Prep time 15 minutes  Cooking time – 30 minutes

Cost per portion: around £1.10

 

Ingredients

500g Mushrooms

200g Risotto rice

500ml stock (ideally mushroom but vegetable or chicken both work)

1 medium onion/half a large onion

50g grated fresh parmesan (or cheddar if you prefer the taste)

3 tbsp oil

 

Optional

Parsley

2 tbsp double cream

Truffle oil

 

Chop the mushrooms to your desired size – I tend to quarter them unless they are particularly big or small.

Add them to a large pan with half of the oil and a third of a cup of water (80ml) which will help stop them burning. Place over a medium heat for around 15 minutes.

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Chop up the garlic and add the mushrooms after about 5 minutes.

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The mushrooms have shrunk and are releasing all the liquid held inside of them

While the mushrooms are cooking finely dice the onion and add it to another pan with the remaining oil.

Cook the onions until they are translucent – at this point they will start to get a bit sticky and come together while you stir them.

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Drain the liquid off the mushrooms and keep it! I tend to get about a cup out of 500g mushrooms. Place the mushrooms off to one side

Add the rice to the pan with the onion and stir through.

Add the mushroom liquid and cook on a medium heat until it has all been absorbed by the rice. Make sure you keep stirring.

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The grains are still very small and uncooked. All the liquid that has been added so far will be absorbed!

Add half the stock and keep cooking the risotto.

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Once the risotto is thick enough to hold its shape and there is no running liquid, add the next potion of stock

Once that has been absorbed slowly add the rest of the stock stirring after each addition.

If the rice still isn’t soft, just keep adding more water a bit a time and waiting for it to be absorbed until the rice is cooked.

Add the grated cheese and stir through.

For a super creamy risotto, you can add a small amount of double cream and stir it through at this point.

Add the mushrooms and return to the heat continuing to stir until the mushrooms are fully heated again.

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Garnish with cream, parsley, some of the mushrooms and sometimes even a little olive oil

Let me know if you try this at home, I love seeing things you guys cook. Give me a tag on Instagram @thatcookingthing. If you fancy treating yourself, why not try having a three course meal of risotto, beef lasagne and millionaire’s shortbread for dessert!

Have a good one and I’ll see you next week with a recipe for my orange and chocolate bread and butter pudding. It’s super creamy and perfect for a long winter night in!

H