Last week I was sitting at my desk at work, eating the last brown-bag portion of a big pan of tater tot casserole, and I announced to the air: “my gods, I just really want vegetables.” Don’t get me wrong: tater tot casserole is magical. But all that meat and cream-of-something… it can get to be a bit much, and after a lot of that kind of heavy food, I just strongly, desperately want vegetables.
This is a slightly fancier riff on a dish I’ve been making for more than a decade. Usually it’s a very simple stir-fry of kale and tofu, light and unassuming. But that day at the store none of the kale looked good, and the swiss chard was this deep, deep near-burgundy. A recipe started unspooling in my head, and I grabbed other ingredients excitedly, transforming it into something heartier and more complex, but still grounded in simplicity and, really, a sort of earnestness.
It also happens to be utterly delicious.
Nutty, spicy golden tofu and swiss chard
A hearty, saucy mix of tofu and greens, with plenty of bright aromatics, all over nutty brown rice. This one is terrifically satisfying without feeling overly heavy, exactly the thing I needed on a cold winter’s day when I desperately wanted vegetables, but also wanted to be happily full. If you’re fortunate enough to find Swiss chard that’s a deep, almost-beetlike red, you’ll be rewarded with a delightfully pink sauce. That didn’t happen for my photo session — the chard was lovely, but not quite that bold — but the first time I dreamed this up it was a great surprise.
I’m indebted to J. Kenji López-Alt’s investigation of tofu-frying techniques, “How to Cook Crispy Tofu Worth Eating,” for the tofu pressing and frying method I’ve used here.
3 Tbsp canola oil
1 block tofu (14 oz or so); see Prep for cutting instructions
1 red onion, sliced into petals
1 bunch swiss chard (6-8 stalks), leaves and ribs chopped separately
1 large jalapeño, sliced
2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced into thin batons
4 cloves garlic, chopped (about the same amount as the ginger)
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 c stock or water
1 Tbsp tahini
Bragg’s liquid aminos, to taste
Cooked brown rice, to serve
Portion the tofu. You can do this in any shape you like, of course, but I like largish squares: easier to fry, and it makes a nice textural contrast. Lay the block of tofu on the board, then halve it down the long axis so that you have two long blocks. Cut across the two blocks so that you end up with thin-but-not-too-thin squares — I did a pretty consistent 3/8″ thick, but don’t get hung up on it.
Press the tofu. Again, you can do this how you like including pressing the uncut block), but I found that it was most effective to press the cut squares. Lay a clean kitchen towel on a rimmed baking sheet, lay the tofu squares out on it, then cover with another towel and another baking sheet. Set heavy things on the top sheet and let sit while you prep the other ingredients.
In a large pan, heat the oil over medium heat and fry tofu squares till it they are nicely golden brown, 4-6 minutes per side. It’s very helpful to have a thin metal spatula to turn the squares with. (You will almost certainly need to do this in batches.) Remove the tofu when it is done and set aside.
In the same oil, fry onion until lightly softened, 4-5 minutes, then add chard stems and jalapeño and continue frying until the jalapeño has softened, 3-4 more minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and saute briefly till fragrant.
Add the tomatoes and stock. Increase heat to high to bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until tomatoes have softened and begun to fall apart, about 5 minutes.
Return the tofu to the pan and add the chard leaves. Cook, stirring to incorporate the greens, until the leaves have wilted and the tofu has absorbed a little of the liquid, about a minute. (There should still be enough liquid for this to be slightly saucy; if it seems dry add a little water.)
Stir in the tahini, as well as the Bragg’s to taste. (I used about a tablespoon when cooking with water, less with stock.) Serve hot over brown rice.
I call for the jalapeño to be sliced whole, and used with all of its seeds and ribs. If that’s too much heat for you, halve the jalapeño and remove the seeds and ribs, then slice the halves.
I like the mild nutty taste of tahini here, but if you don’t have any lying around, you can use unsweetened peanut butter instead, or simply omit.
Bragg’s Liquid Aminos is a seasoning condiment that is similar to soy sauce. It has a very Earnest Vegetarian Food from the Seventies feel to me, and I like it here, but you can absolutely sub in soy sauce if you like, or even salt.
If you have a well-stocked Asian market near you (or a willing restaurant), you may be able to buy plain already-fried tofu — you can start with the onion frying in that case, adding the tofu at the end as instructed.
Many other proteins would work nicely in this dish: seitan and chicken seem most obvious to me, but play it by ear.