Vegan Ma Po Tofu

A delicious, tremendously spicy dish from the Sichuan (or Szechuan, depending how you spell it) province of China, and a new go-to of mine! This is a rich, flavourful stew served on a bed of rice. Easy to prepare and quick to make. Not the most traditional version of the dish, to be fair, but it sure is delicious!

There are a couple of ingredients you might not be familiar with in this dish: Sichuan peppercorns and chili bean sauce. You can find both of these quite easily at a Chinese supermarket! Sichuan peppercorns are wonderfully spicy and leave an almost tingly feeling in your mouth – great for making your own spicy oil for various stir fry dishes. The chili bean sauce is made from fermented broad beans and chilies. It’s incredibly delicious and provides most of the seasoning for the dish, since it’s quite salty!

If you have a lower spice tolerance, feel free to omit the chilies or reduce the amount of peppercorns used.

Traditionally, this dish would use ground pork, but here I’ve replaced that with mushrooms, to make it vegan-friendly while still keeping that lovely umami flavour. Normally this would be cooked in a wok, but if you don’t have one, a deep frying pan will work just fine!

Prep time: ~30 minutes.
Serves: 4-6.

Ingredients:

  • 3 tbsp. Sichuan peppercorns.
  • 2 red chilies, finely diced.
  • 3-4 tbsp vegetable oil.
  • 3 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and finely diced.
  • 3 tbsp garlic, peeled and finely diced.
  • 200 g. button mushrooms, finely diced.
  • 1-2 tbsp chili bean sauce.
  • 1 tsp soy sauce.
  • 1 tsp rice vinegar.
  • 200 ml boiling water.
  • 400 g. tofu (anywhere from medium to firm is fine!), cut into 1 cm cubes.
  • 2 tsp cornstarch.
  • 2 scallions, finely sliced.

Cooking Instructions:

Before you begin, start cooking some long-grain rice, about 1/4 cup per person. This will take about as long as the rest of the dish!

Start by grinding half of the peppercorns in a spice grinder or mortar or pestle, just until you get a coarse, crumb-like consistency.

Heat the oil in the wok over medium-high heat, and add in the peppercorns and chilies. Fry for a couple of minutes, until the oil takes on some of the colour, then add in the ginger and garlic.

Keep everything moving in the pan, and fry for a couple of minutes, until the ginger and garlic become fragrant. Add the mushrooms in, and once they become soft, stir in the chili bean paste, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and water.

Make a cornstarch slurry in a small dish by mixing the cornstarch with a couple teaspoons of water. Add that to the pan, and stir it through well until it begins to thicken into a lovely sauce.

Bring to a gentle bubble, then stir in the tofu, being careful not to break the pieces. Simmer for a few minutes to allow the tofu to heat through completely. Check

Spoon some rice into the bottom of a bowl, then top with the stew. Sprinkle a small handful of chopped scallions, and enjoy!

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Stuffed Acorn Squash

I love squash. And I love stuffing vegetables with things  (stuffed bell peppers and tomatoes are some of my favourites), so this is a great combination for me and all other squash lovers!

Squash have a very long shelf life, and tend to be fairly inexpensive. So if you, like me, are having trouble finding affordable produce because you live in Canada (where nothing grows between October and March), keeping a couple squash around can make planning dinner easier!

I chose acorn squash for this recipe mostly because they’re small and easy to handle, and because a couple of acorn squash can easily feed 4 people. Or 2 very hungry people.

Gluten-free
Serves 4
Prep time: ~60 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 small acorn squash, sliced in half and de-seeded.
  • 1 tbsp olive oil.
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil of your choice (olive oil, butternut squash seed oil, you decide!).
  • 1 large onion, diced.
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced/crushed.
  • 1 cup brown rice, rinsed.
  • 2 cups vegetable stock.
  • 500 g mushrooms, finely sliced.
  • 1 handful walnuts, crushed.
  • 1 handful pecans, crushed.
  • 1 small handful dried fruit (raisins, currants, etc – optional).
  • 1 small handful fresh thyme, chopped (or 1 tsp dried).
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg.
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne (or to taste).
  • salt and pepper, to taste.

Cooking Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 375 F/185 C. Line a large baking tray with aluminium foil. See if your squash halves will rest hollow-side-up without falling over. If so, great! If not, slice a little bit off the back side to make sure it won’t topple over later.

Rub the inside of your squash generously with olive oil, salt, and pepper, then place the halves hollow-side-down on your baking sheet. Bake for approx 30-45 minutes, until the squash is nice and tender. This will depend on how big your squash is.

Meanwhile, making the stuffing – start out by heating a large pot on medium heat with a tablespoon or so of oil in the bottom. when the oil is hot, add in your onions, garlic, and mushrooms. Cook until the onions are soft and translucent and the mushrooms are nicely cooked, this should take 5-10 minutes.

Stir in the nuts, dried fruit, thyme, nutmeg, and cayenne. Next, add in the rice and vegetable stock. Simmer until the liquid is all absorbed and the rice is cooked, about 20 minutes.

When the squash is done, remove it from the oven and flip it hollow-side-up. If the cavity is smaller than you’d like, scoop out some of the squash and mix it in with your filling. Spoon your filling into the squash, being careful not to poke holes in the skin. If you do poke a hole, seal it up with a bit of tinfoil.

Cover the squash with tinfoil as best as you can, to keep it from burning, and pop it back into the oven for about 10 minutes. Serve piping hot!

 

Quick and Easy Risotto

Risotto is incredible. It’s a super creamy, delicious rice dish that’s easy to customize. It has a reputation for being tricky to cook, but as long as you keep an eye on it and keep stirring it, you shouldn’t have any trouble! My dad taught me to make risotto when I was 14, and I’ve since adjusted his recipe to make it vegan.

I’ve included two different variations in this recipe, since they’re both very yummy, but very different! You can add all sorts of things to risotto to make it interesting. Celery, peas, mushrooms, carrots… the list goes on and on. If you don’t drink alcohol, go ahead and add an extra cup of stock and a splash of vinegar to imitate the effect the wine has on the dish.

Prep time: ~30 minutes
Gluten-free
Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup arborio rice.
  • 2 tbsp olive oil.
  • 1 small onion, finely diced.
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed or minced.
  • ~3 cups vegetable stock (may need more or less, depends on how the rice behaves).
  • Salt and pepper, to taste.

For the white wine and vegetable risotto:

  • 1 cup white wine.
  • 1 small zucchini, thinly sliced into quarter-moons.
  • 1 small yellow bell pepper, diced.

For the red wine and mushroom risotto:

  • 1 cup red wine.
  • 1 small handful dried mushrooms (porcini are the best, but a mixed variety is nice too).
  • drizzle of truffle oil to garnish (optional!).

Cooking Instructions:

Both of these risottos start out the same way: place a large saucepan on medium heat, and add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the arborio rice and fry for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.

Next, add the onions and garlic and fry for another two minutes, stirring often to prevent everything from sticking. Add the wine and mix it into the rice well. Cook until the wine is absorbed into the rice, stirring often to make sure no rice gets stuck to the bottom of the pot.

If you’re making the vegetable risotto, now’s the time to add the bell pepper.

Add the vegetable stock in half-cup increments, waiting each time for the stock to get absorbed. Keep on stirring.

Once two cups of stock has been absorbed properly, it’s time to add the zucchini, if you’re making the vegetable risotto, or the mushrooms, if you’re making the mushroom risotto.

Keep adding the stock and stirring it until the rice is plump and tender. How much stock you’ll need to use with depend on your rice. Some brands need a lot of liquid before they’re properly cooked.

Season with salt and pepper, and serve piping hot! If you made the mushroom risotto, drizzle a little bit of truffle oil (or olive oil) over the top to be fancy.

Asian-Inspired Noodle Salad

This salad combines a ton of fresh flavors with rice noodles and mushrooms to help it be a little more filling. You can really use whatever mushrooms you like, but I recommend shiitake, oyster, and enokitake. Enokitake look pretty cool, and come in a bunch of different forms, but the cultivated kind have long, thin stalks and little tiny caps.

Prep time: ~15 minutes
Gluten-free
Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • ~200 g rice noodles.
  • 3 cups mushrooms, thinly sliced.
  • 2 red chilis, with the seeds and pith removed, finely sliced (use less if you don’t like spicy food!).
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced.
  • 1 piece of fresh ginger, about thumb sized, peeled and sliced into small, thin strips.
  • 1 zucchini, sliced into a fine julienne (about the size and width of a matchstick).
  • 4 green onions, finely sliced.
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil.
  • 1 small bunch coriander, stalks removed from the leaves.
  • 6 cups leafy greens (spinach, arugula, or bok choy would be nice).

For the dressing:

  • 2 tbsp soy sauce/gluten-free soy sauce.
  • 2 tsp sweetener of your choice.
  • 2 tsp sesame oil.
  • 2 tsp rice wine vinegar.

Cooking Instructions:

Heat a pan or wok on high heat. Add the sesame oil, and then toss in the mushrooms. Cook, stirring often, until they begin to soften. Next, add the chili, garlic, ginger, zucchini, and green onions. Fry until they start to soften as well.

Meanwhile, cook your rice noodles according to package directions. When cooked, strain, and rinse with cold water to prevent them from overcooking and getting soggy.

Place all of your dressing ingredients in a small bowl and mix well. When combined, add it to your frying pan/wok, and stir well, coating the vegetables and mushrooms well.

Take your frying pan/wok off the heat, and toss in the rice noodles, coriander, and leafy greens. Give it a quick toss, to mix it all together, and then serve.

Vegetable Kabobs

A great lunch or dinner for a summer day. Served with a vinaigrette for dipping, it’s a very light meal, perfect for really hot days spent by the pool. Or lake. I recommend having a couple different salads with these kabobs (the Gillis cucumber salad and Gillis pasta salad are both great!), and maybe some corn on the cob.

Prep time: ~60 minutes, including marinating the tofu.
Gluten-free
Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups cherry/grape tomatoes, whole.
  • 2 cups pearl onions, peeled and whole.
  • 2 cups mushrooms, washed and halved.
  • 2 cups bell peppers, sliced into large squares, seeds removed.
  • 2 cups pineapple, cut into chunks.
  • 2 cup extra-firm tofu, chunked.
  • 2 tbsp oil (sesame oil or olive oil work nicely).
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce/gluten-free soy sauce.
  • 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar.
  • 1 tbsp fresh grated ginger.
  • wooden/metal skewers.
  • 8 tbsp vinaigrette (see Basic Vinaigrette for instructions).

Cooking Instructions:

Before slicing the tofu, press between two paper towels to remove extra moisture. Really squeeze the water out of that sucker. Next, slice up the tofu, and place in a large bowl. Add in the soy sauce, oil, vinegar, and ginger. Toss well, thoroughly coating the tofu. Cover with clingfilm, and place in the fridge for half an hour.

When the tofu is done, begin assembling your kabobs. Skewer the vegetables and tofu however you’d like. I like to either make a pattern with the various ingredients, or do separate kabobs of each. Place on a hot barbecue, and cook, rotating the kabobs occasionally, until nicely cooked and browned.

Serve hot, with vinaigrette on the side for dipping.