February 10, 2011

A Poor Man’s Food, Served With Grandeur

I woke up. I ate. I yakked. I then ate. And I yakked again.

That was how my Chinese New Year had been, until earlier this week, when I dragged myself back to the office, and this vicious cycle was forcibly put to a stop.

Lit Up for Chinese New Year, With a Rabbit by the Side, at My House
Home sweet home ...

Oh, wait! I did more than that, didn’t I? (Pei-Lin isn’t that pathetic, anyway.) Let me recount the first days of my Chinese New Year:

I woke up. I ate. I yakked. I then baked. And I cooked. I ate. And I yakked again.

Ah, much better.

Now, I’m pretty sure most Chinese families around the world already had their reunion dinner. (If not, Pei-Lin would give you that searing look.)

In Chinese, we call this special occasion “團圓飯.” It’s pronounced in Cantonese as “TOO-yu-een YOO-een F-ahn,” or in Mandarin as “tuan yuan fan / t-ONE yoo-anne f-ahn.” Okay. Have I had you puzzled with phonetics? I hope not.

The reunion dinner — it’s a big thing. Every Chinese New Year’s Eve, my family never fails to put together a sumptuous spread of good food. Royal treatment for our tummies is not a must; it’s a guarantee.

My Family's Reunion Dinner on Chinese New Year's Eve of 2011

Typical of a southern Chinese household, we emphasize on lavishness — or should I say greatness. These sinographs sum it up best: 大魚大肉, which loosely translate as “fish in profusion, meat in profusion.”

My mom served up her lotus rhizome and peanut soup (蓮藕花生湯), stir-fried leeks with shrimp and carrots (甘筍蒜炒蝦球), Teochew-style steamed fish (潮式蒸魚), and simple stir-fried shrimp in soy sauce (豉油蝦). I, on the other hand, cooked up some chicken curry, zesting it up with the woodsy cardamom and cinnamon. Pretty Malaysian, I’d say. (Alas, I was too tired to snap any picture.)

Oh, one more dish. Here:

Tofu With XO Sauce XO醬嫩豆腐
Oops! I used the wrong plate for this one. Too much sauce? *LOL*

A poor man’s food served with grandeur. Say hi to the humble tofu, and its rich friend, XO sauce.

Sad to say, tofu by itself is nothing but blah. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to delve into that block of soft, white matter from a scientific point of view. But knowing that it does no evil to the body, and that it’s very affordable in this part of the world, I had this urge — the urge to fix something tofu-ish. It’d better be a snappy one, without compromising on the taste.

Image courtesy of Konark Enterprises

There, XO sauce came to my rescue, to imbue the tofu with its unique savory flavors. It’s a jumble of dried seafood like scallops and shrimp, red chili pepper, and spices. That said, it’s got to be rich — in flavor and cost (ouch!). As a matter of fact, it’s been a rich man’s food.

When opposites attract — when the bland meets the flavorful — wonders happen. I’m glad that tofu has found another soul mate, XO sauce, among others.

And the story goes, as the rich XO sauce brings out the humble tofu’s silken smoothness, and as the blah tofu tames down the burning passion of the XO sauce.

On a personal note, just a quibble of ours, we’ve dismissed the “extra hot” warning printed on the packaging. While ingesting XO sauce, we’ve yet to experience any of these symptoms: sweat, tears, sniveling, sniffling, and blushed cheeks.

Other than that, everything was 正 (“tzeh-ng” in Cantonese, meaning awesome)! After a rich flavor therapy, five poor hungry tummies were left filled to the brim.


Tofu With XO Sauce XO醬嫩豆腐

Tofu With XO Sauce   XO醬嫩豆腐
Adapted from “Hometown Delicious (sic)”**   改自《家味美餚》

* The recipe below is purely for reference. It’s recommended that you adjust things to taste. *

** I know it sounds odd, but don’t ask me about the book title. Personally, I think the English titles of many cookbooks and culinary periodicals from Malaysia and some other parts of Asia are worded inappropriately. More proofreading and editing perhaps? **

150 g silken tofu

Cooking oil – 1~2 tsp or adjust as necessary
4 shallots – thinly sliced

2 Tbsp dried shrimp 蝦米 – coarsely chopped
1 Tbsp freshly minced garlic
20 g Chinese sausage 臘腸 – thinly sliced

1 Tbsp light soy sauce 生抽

  1. Here’s how you take care of the tofu. Either you drain it real well and consume it right out of the packaging without reheating (well, give it a gentle rinse if it looks dirty) — or, gently transfer the tofu into a dish (glassware, or some vessel of that sort) and steam over high heat for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the steamer or wok or whatever that’s used to steam the tofu, and set side.
  2. For the topping: over medium heat, heat up some cooking oil in a wok or skillet. Once it’s hot enough, lower the heat to medium-low, and sauté the thinly sliced shallots till they smell aromatic and start to brown. Stir in (A), and continue to sauté everything till they are browned and smell absolutely great. Dish out and set aside. On the other hand, combine together (B).
  3. To serve, drain the steamed tofu and pour away the excess water — if you’d chosen to steam it earlier on. Then, spoon the sautéed mixture over the tofu, followed by the XO sauce. Dig in! I prefer mine not burning-hot, warm, or too cold. But this is an arbitrary thing anyway.


wendyywy @ Table for 2..... or more said...

That is like so so generous!!!
I mean with the XO sauce.

Won't it be too salty?

j3ss kitch3n said...

Happy CNY Pei-Lin! hope you had enough rest! the tofu looks divine! makes me wana cook them now haha!

Pei-Lin@Dodol and Mochi said...

@Wendy: That was why I've stated explicitly in the headnote to the recipe typed out here that it's solely for reference and please adjust to taste. I was just paraphrasing the author, whoever that is. When I tried out this recipe, I didn't follow it very closely too. It was all eyeballing. When I saw 80 g tofu for that amount of topping, I was a bit apprehensive too. Then, I included more tofu, didn't follow the recipe at all. Plus, taste is subjective. So, I can't determine for everyone else! And since I did it another way, it was just right for us. Not too salty at all. Anyway, thanks for pointing out. I increased the quantity of tofu called for here to 150 g -- but for people to refer to only -- not to follow verbatim. That's a problem I'm struggling with sharing Chinese dishes, as I don't really follow the recipes. *Sigh* Thank goodness you caught me here before I go to bed. Bye!

@Jess H.: Thanks!

mycookinghut said...

Happy CNY!! Love the tofu!! miam!

Pei-Lin@Dodol and Mochi said...

@Wendy: Suddenly was wondering if you were referring to the one in the pics. The topping seems out of proportion, as depicted there, because I was very generous with Chinese sausage and dried shrimp.

Shirley @ Kokken69 said...

Peilin, tofu is absolutely my favorite food on earth! Without fail, I will order a tofu dish when I go to the restaurants. This looks awesome. Well written post! Enjoyed reading it!

CaThY said...

I love the tofu with the XO sauce~ =)

Swee San said...

when I first saw the picture on flickr, I thought hrrm.. "wrong plate" but it looks very generous. tofu's one of my faves but I never liked it it with XO sauce. haha

wendyywy @ Table for 2..... or more said...

I was refering to the picture loooo. Overflowing with "liew".

Esther said...

That looks really good. Happy Chinese New Year! It seems like you aren't as busy, at least for now? I never knew that tofu can look a bit dirty out of the box. My mom likes cooking tofu in miso soup or serving it cold with some quail eggs on top or even making mapo tofu. :D So what you said about tofu being by itself is "blah" is very true.

edith said...

Gong Hei Fatt Choy, tofu is a all time favourite in my household and you done a great job with it.

Ellie (Almost Bourdain) said...

Happy New Year, Pei-Lin. Tofu with XO sauce sounds delicious.

lena said...

hi, hope you are well energetic now at work after all the 'yakking'at home. i havent tried on xo sauce but your descrption of the mixed scallop , shrimps and spices really sounds great to me, i think can even use as flavour for fried rice.

Honey Bee Sweets said...

When I see plates so full with yummy sauce or soup, I got this crazy urge to take a sip on the side of the plate, lol! Hey, generous is good! Indeed tofu is really blunt with with...that XO sauce will give it the right kick! Thanks for this recipe, gonna try it when I purchase that sauce. Btw, have loads of fun on Sat, physically I can't be there but you know I whole heartily wishing to be there with you guys! Take care & hope we will meet on some other occasion.....when u coming to Singapore again?

qinyi said...

i saw this on ur flickr acct the other day and i must say it made me drool. wanted to gobble it down straight away! ur family is so lucky to be able to enjoy restaurant quality food every day! :)

PlumLeaf 李葉 said...

Gosh! When I saw the title and the first sentence I thought you had been ill! In UK "Yakking" is slang for lots of chit-chat but can also be when you are ill and ummm....vomiting. I thought this post was about Rice Congee - Jook, but served in some fanciful way with lots of accompaniments, (fish floss, deep fried vermicelli, spring onion, fried dough sticks......) - Ooops!
Hope you had a good one!

Pei-Lin@Dodol and Mochi said...

@Leemei, Shirley, Cathy, Edith, Ellie: Thank you much! Happy Chinese New Year, too! Have a fantastic day ahead! I'm gonna head to work real soon ...

@Swee San: That was why I also said there I used the wrong plate. No lar, things turned out to be alright for us. Mmm ... I love both tofu and XO sauce and love them both together. =P

@Wendy: Roger! Hak sei ngo tim ... LOL!

@Esther: Well, those boxed ones are clean usually, but some people still give it a gentle rinse for fear of dirt. LOL! I don't! Thank you so much for being so encouraging all along. Happy Chinese New Year to you, too! Speaking of my life, ever since I got back from the States and began my work life, I've always been busy. How I wish there's a peaceful, quiet moment in which I can sit down and pick up a fave book of mine to read, or just lie on the bed and do nothing and sleep away! I don't have that luxury now! If you get to see me now, I'm sure you'll notice I have serious eye-bag problem. LOL! Now, I'm having common cold, have been sniveling and sniffling, feeling dizzy. LOL! And once I'm done here, it's to work! LOL! You take care too, K? =)

Pei-Lin@Dodol and Mochi said...

@Lena: Unfortunately, I've been kinda sick for the last few days. LOL! Yet, still need to work to earn a living. LOL! For me, XO sauce is a nice condiment. Goes well with many things. There are gobs of recipes out there for that! Thank you for the kind words. =)

@Bee Bee: LOL! I was too generous with the topping lar in the pictures. LOL! This Saturday, I dunno if I can make it now since I'm still having cold and whatnot, throat not feeling good. *Sigh* As of now, I don't have plans of coming down to Singapore. Don't worry! I'm sure we're gonna have the chance to meet again somewhere, somewhat. LOL! Take care, buddy!

@qinyi: Thank you! Got your email from yesterday(?) ... Will get back to you later. LOL! Haha! How I wish my folks would appreciate me more ... LOL! Nah ...

@PlumLeaf: Indeed, I've been ill!!! Haha! Running common cold, cracked voice! Oh, I didn't know of the latter meaning. Thank you for sharing that with me. Haha! Here, tofu is rather inexpensive; hence, the title. Thank you! Hope yours has been a great one, too! =)

Jess @ Bakericious said...

Pei Lin, you are so generous on the sauce but I love it! Looking at the tofu, I wish I can scope a big portion of it, yummy!

Jo said...

Happy Lunar New Year Pei Lin. It's not a "poor man's food" .. it's a feast by itself and I certainly don't mind this at all.

ICook4Fun said...

I wish I can sink my teeth into this plate of luscious tofu. Just look at all the toppings. I am so making this once I make some XO sauce. Enjoy your day with the ladies tomorrow. I wish I can be there too.

Little Inbox said...

The XO sauce spiced up the tofu. Good try!
I go on vegetarian lunch affair during working days, and I tasted quite a number of tofu dish so far. I'll try to cook my own the next, hehehe...
Happy CNY

Jun said...

Looks so delicious!!!

A frog in the cottage said...

that looks super delicious !! fantastic

Melomeals: Vegan for $3.33 a Day said...

That looks sooo good! My mouth is watering.

Aimei said...

Good sauce does wonder on a simple tofu! I'm sure even with the sauce, a dish of soft silky tofu won't feel that sinful! Great to have a lighter dish aside the rest. :)

Hope you are well Pei Lin. Do let me know if you are coming to Singapore yea. :)

Uncle Lee said...

Hi Pei Lin, Happy New Year.
Love the pics here. And I wouldn't call it 'poor man's food'....I would call it, 'the food of love'.
I'm sure it had that special ingredient called 'sayang'...

Love your eloquence.....and lively humour.
You have fun, stay young and keep a song in your heart.
Best regards, Lee.

noobcook said...

really 正! I can never have enough of XO Sauce :D

Pei-Lin said...

@Jess, Jo, Jun, a frog in the cottage, Melomeal, Wiffy: Vegan for $3.33 a Day: Thank you so much for the kind words! So sorry for the late reply, I've been caught up with some other stuff! Have a gorgeous week, yea?

@Gert: Haha! You're gonna make your own XO sauce? Boy, I actually haven't thought of that! I bet if I'm in MN now, I'd make my own XO sauce from scratch too. LOL!!! Now, I'm more of a lazy bone, sad to say. Boohoo ... Let us see how your XO sauce tofu turns out to be! Boy! Hey, don't worry, yea? I'm sure there will be a chance for all of us ladies to meet up again. Another potluck perhaps? Thank you for the encouraging words, Gert! You've been so, so supportive! Take care, stay warm in PA!

@Siew Lay: Yup, do tell me how your own tofu dishes turn out! Thank you so much for the kind words and well wishes!

@Aimei: Indeed! Hehehe ... That was why, I love tofu dishes ... LOL! Thank you so much, Aimei! I myself have been so, so swarmed and feeling overwhelmed. Deprived of sleep, too. I hope you're doing better than I do ... I'll definitely let you know if I ever plan on traveling down to Singapore again ... Take care!

@Uncle Lee: Haha! You're definitely a man blessed with good sense of humor! Gosh! Haha! You just made me laugh real bad! LOL! I sayang you for saying that, too! Haha! Thank you so much for the encouraging words! Thank you for being so supportive. I'll try make the best while I'm still young(?) ... Take care, stay warm in Canada!!! XOXO

pickyin @ LifeIsGreat said...

Hi Pei Lin,

I found your blog through Shirley's and foodgawker (while looking for CNY peanut cookie recipes). Love your style, will be following from now on!

Pei-Lin said...

Hi, Pickyin!

Haha! Thank you so much for the encouraging words! Thank you for cheering me up after a tiring day! I'm now kinda sleep-deprived, too. LOL!

Have a gorgeous day!


Su-Lin said...

That looks freaking incredible! Definitely going to make this when I find some XO sauce next!

Pei-Lin said...

Su-Lin, thank you so much for the encouraging words! K. Look forward to your version next!

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