Cookbook review: Tofu from Kylie Kwong's Recipes & Stories

Contrary to popular opinion, I'm not a complete carnivore. Every now and then I like to refresh my system with some simple, non-meaty food. Believe it or not, I've flirted with vegetarianism a few times, lasting three months at one point, but the meat cravings generally get the best of me. After a lot of recent indulging I felt it was time for my favourite dish from one of my most reliable cookbooks, Recipes and Stories by Kylie Kwong. It's vegan and its tofu, but please keep reading! I promise you'll be inspired.

I hate to call this blog post a cookbook review, because Recipes & Stories has been out for ages. It is however one of my favourite cookbooks. I've cooked, with great success, recipes for chicken wings, numerous stir fries, poaches and braises not to mention Mrs Jang's Eggs. The Cantonese fried rice is also superb.

In case you don't know her, Kylie Kwong is a terrific Australian-Chinese chef. She runs Billy Kwong, a lovely Chinese eating house on Crown Street in Surry Hills, Sydney, and has worked with some of the best chefs in Sydney such as Neil Perry. She champions organic produce and bio-dynamic wines and if I still lived in Sydney I would visit her restaurant much more often. Actually, if I'm looking to cook Asian food at home I really only ever turn to Kylie (My China or Recipes and Stories) or to Neil (Balance and Harmony is really terrific).

So to tofu. I know this ingredient can turn people off because it has certain connotations, but this dish is wonder of texture and spicing. For me it just hits all the right notes and I really urge you to give it a go partly because the method is so straightforward, but also because the genius of the dish lies in the combination of flavours. Also, if you like Chinese food, this is a dish that uses ingredients you most likely have in your kitchen cupboard making it easy to knock together in less time than it takes for your rice cooker to click over to Keep Warm. You do have a rice cooker, right?

Start by draining your silken tofu and placing it in a dish that will fit inside a steamer. I have a bamboo steamer with a lid that fits snugly over my wok which I find works well. Run your knife lengthways along the tofu to bisect it into two long oblongs and then cut it across twice, so you end up with six chubby cubes of wobbly tofu. It doesn't look very appetising yet, but the magic is in the dressing, and that is yet to come. Put the steamer containing your tofu over your wok of simmering water, cover it and let it steam away to heat through for eight to ten minutes.

Now the dressing. Simply mix together one tablespoon of finely chopped ginger, 2 tablespoons of finely chopped green shallots, 2 tablespoons of finely chopped coriander stems (I tend to throw the leaves in here too), 2 tablespoons of kecap manis (that sticky sweet Indonesian soy), 2 tablespoons of black vinegar (also called chinkiang vinegar to which I am ever so slightly addicted), 1 tablespoon of sesame oil, 1.5 tablespoons of light soy sauce and a quarter teaspoon of chilli oil (or a little bit more if you like things with a bit more kick).

Once the tofu has heated through, I like to drain off the water that has seeped out. Tip the dressing over the top of the hot tofu. Now heat 2 tablespoons of peanut oil in a small saucepan until it is smoking and then carefully pour this over the dressed tofu. You should be rewarded with a satisfying sizzle as you do so. Sprinkle a few more coriander leaves on top along with with some crushed Szechuan peppercorns mixed together with some salt (ratio of two salt to one pepper), although this is more of an optional garnish. It does however give you another textural element coupled with the tingle and numbing of the peppercorns.

And that's it. Serve it up with a bowl of steamed rice for a light, healthy, nourishing and refreshing dinner. You could eat this with some wok-seared bok choy drizzled with some oyster sauce if you like. There's even vegetarian oyster sauce if you want to maintain the feeling of zen you might feel from having a non-meat based meal. I mentioned that this is something I eat as a bit of a detox, but actually I'm happy to eat this dish at any time.

All this talk of Kylie Kwong reminds me. I should tell you about a dinner at Billy Kwong a few years back when I accosted poor Kylie towards the end of the night. While she was taking a well deserved break from behind the wok (a 'celebrity' chef actually cooking!), I gushed in a drunken stupor how much I enjoyed the meal and her cookbooks. I'm sure she couldn't wait to see me return to my table, but she left a lovely inscription on my copy of My China, which is another great cookbook. I've yet to attempt to recreate the Billy Kwong signature dish we ordered that night which is a sort of Asian take on duck a l'orange and left us all licking the plate clean. It's on the to do list.


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