I'd stock blocks of tofu up whenever me or my friends get the chance to travel down to Minneapolis and St. Paul, the closest metro area from us. As I'll be flying home in a little over two weeks, I have been unable to get around to do it. But, my craving for braised tofu hit me terribly lately. So, I had to give in and purchased a block of (expensive) tofu locally! Ouch!
Braised tofu (紅燒豆腐) is my all-time favorite! I can gobble up gulps of rice with it instantly! I actually learned how to prepare this dish by referring to Angie's recipe. (By the way, she's got a new blog. Check it out here.) Nonetheless, you don't really need to look at the recipe once you've gotten familiar with the ingredients and methods. The point is recipes should be taken as reference in Chinese cooking; it'll just be eyeballing once you've mastered it.
Another dish I made alongside with the braised tofu was shrimp and preserved radish soup with cilantro. It's a traditional Teochew dish from Chaoshan (潮汕), a cultural and linguistic center in northeastern Guangdong (廣東). I'm 100 percent Cantonese (廣東人) with my father coming from the Yue-speaking (粵語) group while my mother coming from the Teochew-speaking (潮州話) group. (Yue is more commonly known as Cantonese.) Even though they grew up speaking two different dialects, they can both trace their roots in Guangdong because these two dialectic groups are originated there.
OK, back to the main topic! This soup is called the Soup of Dragon's Tongue and Phoenix's Tails when literally translated (龍舌鳳尾湯). We Chinese love to name things in a different way ... if you get what I mean. We seek for prosperity, good luck and peace. So, a name such as this was born. Oftentimes, you can't tell what the dish is by its name if you're from another different culture. Fancy, eh? Anyway, Dragon's Tongue refers to the preserved radish (菜脯) while Phoenix's Tails refer to the shrimps/prawns. Cilantro is used to remove the "fishy" taste of seafood.
I actually learned how to make this while I was watching an old episode of the Chinese variety show 大明星突襲小廚房 (meaning "top celebrity invading a small kitchen.") My favorite singer Hins Cheung (張敬軒) was the featured celebrity. He and the host actually invaded the kitchen of a Teochew family. Ah ..., that's why the Teochew dish! The Teochew aunty made three classic Teochew dishes, with one being that soup. Looked healthily yummy while plain and simple, which suits our palate, I decided to give it a try though my Teochew mom has neither heard about nor tasted it. Probably, her ancestors came from another different town within the Chaoshan region? Anyhow, I'd better stopped rambling now. Here're the recipes:
Braised tofu 紅燒豆腐 [Adapted from Angie's]
300g extra firm tofu
20g dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked till they're softened
1 Tbsp minced garlic
150g bell pepper
100ml water from soaking the mushrooms
1 tsp Shaoxing cooking wine 紹酒
1/2 tsp powdered chicken bouillion 雞粉
1/2 Tbsp dark soy sauce 老抽
1 Tbsp oyster sauce 蠔油
2/3 tsp salt
1 stalk of spring onion, cut into long sections
1 tsp corn flour
1 Tbsp water
A few drops of sesame oil 麻油
- Drain the tofu and pat it dry, then slice it into rectangular slices
- Drain the mushrooms and squeeze out excess water, reserve the soaking water for use later; slice mushrooms into thin slices lengthwise and set aside
Wash the bell peppers and slice them into thin slices lengthwise, set aside
- Heat up enough cooking oil in the wok. Poke a bamboo chopstick into the hot oil to test it--it's ready when you see tiny bubbles emerging around the chopstick
- Turn the heat down to medium and deep-fry tofu slices until they've turned golden brown, then dish them out and place onto paper kitchen towel-lined plate to have excess oil absorbed; set aside
- Leave some oil in the wok and heat it up again, then stir-fry to sauté (A) till fragrant; stir in bell peppers and stir-fry briefly (say, 1 or 2 min) so that they won't get overcooked, season with (B) and then pour in water to stir briefly till just ingredients are evenly distributed. Cover the wok with lid and turn down to low-medium heat to braise them for 3~5 minutes
- Mix well (C) to make slurry, then uncover wok; stir in the spring onion and season with salt. Turn up to high heat and stir in the slurry; cook till the gravy in the wok has thickened. Turn off the heat and give it a few drops of sesame oil to taste
- Dish it out and serve immediately while it's still hot with bowls of rice!
Chaoshan Preserved Radish and Shrimp/Prawn Soup with Cilantro 龍舌鳳尾湯
300g large fresh raw shrimps/prawns (I used small frozen ones because they were what was available locally)
3-5 slices of preserved radish 菜脯
1/2 handful of cilantro leaves
Fish sauce, to taste (I used salt because I don't have fish sauce)
- Briefly blanch the shrimps in boiling water till their color has just begun to fade, turn off heat, immediately dish them out and drain well; set aside
- Place the water in a wok that's been set over medium-low heat, place in the preserved radish slices while bringing the water to a boil
- Then, stir in the shrimps into the boiling water and let simmer over moderate fire for 3~4 minutes till the shrimps are cooked--don't overcook them! Stir in the cilantro leaves and let it cook 30 seconds to 1 minute; season to taste with fish sauce
- Dish out and serve hot