Stir-Fried Spinach with Fermented Red Tofu
Now, some of you read fermented tofu and freaked out. Don’t lie. Perhaps you’re thinking of that famously stinky stuff considered a Chinese delicacy, tofu that evokes Vincent Price, in another context, intoning about the funk of 40,000 thousand years. Am I right?
The IK, she’s here to ease your mind. Fermented tofu, at least the stuff bought in America, is not stinky or weird or scary. Fuchsia Dunlop, the person who alerted me to this substance, likens it to Roquefort cheese. I wouldn’t even go that far–much as I adore cheese, I’m not that keen on Roquefort. So let’s leave it at this: If you like cheese, fermented tofu will be right up your street. It must be said, however, that red fermented tofu is alarming in appearance. In fact, it’s downright awful looking. Which may be why it’s sold in such gorgeous jars.
Once that bag is opened, a deep red juice containing cubes and bits of tofu will pour out. If your jar, like the one pictured above, doesn’t seal well, decant your fermented tofu into a clean screwtop jar. Do label your jar clearly, lest anyone get the wrong idea about the contents.
Okay, you’re willing to get past fermented tofu’s appearance. You’re game to taste it. But you live…I don’t know where you live. Nowhere near fermented tofu.
Fear not. You, my friend, can purchase fermented tofu from 99 Ranch Market. They ship. Yours truly, she had no idea. But after 30 quality minutes spent searching the internet, the IK discovered her beloved 99 does indeed ship. Oh happy day. (Well, not really. If you read the news. But we’ll agree to be happy about 99 Ranch shipping red fermented tofu.)
Now that you’ve scored your fermented tofu, what are you gonna do with it? Besides eating it right off the spoon, you could follow Fuchsia Dunlop’s example, in Every Grain Of Rice, and stir-fry spinach with it.
I’ve taken liberties with recipes here, mixing Eastern Chinese and Cantonese versions of Spinach With Chili and Fermented Tofu. Dunlop explains that Eastern Chinese chefs prefer red fermented tofu and ginger stir-fried with spinach, while Cantonese use white fermented tofu, chili, and garlic with water spinach, a vegetable not yet widely available Stateside.
After all this talk, you’ll be relieved to hear the actual cooking takes ten seconds. Blanch the spinach first and it may take even less. Not only that, this recipe is vegan and gluten-free, should those things concern you (it does contain soy).
Ideally you’ll stir-fry in a wok, but this is not an ideal world, so if you don’t have a wok, use a large, non-reactive frying pan. Otherwise your spinach will turn bluish and weird, and life is hard enough without your spinach being bluish and weird.
Stir-Fried Spinach With Red Fermented Tofu
from Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain Of Rice
Serves 2 as a side dish or the IK as the entire meal
cooking time: about 5 minutes
Note: red fermented tofu is available at Chinese markets or online at 99 Ranch Market
10-11 ounces fresh spinach
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced, to equal about 2 teaspoons
1/2 fresh hot chili, or to taste; see notes
2 cubes or about 1 tablespoon of red fermented tofu
1/4 teaspoon sugar
about 3 tablespoons peanut, sunflower, or canola oil
salt, if necessary (unlikely, as the tofu is salty)
Wash the spinach, if necessary and trim any long, thick stems.
Place a large pot of water on to boil. Add the spinach, just wilting it momentarily. Remove spinach with Chinese spider or tongs to a strainer.
Mash the tofu and sugar together in a small bowl. Stir in just enough juices from the jar–about a spoonful-to make the mixture creamy (see photograph in blog post).
Put a wok or wide, non-aluminum frying pan on high heat and add the oil. Get the oil hot, then add the garlic and chili. Stir-fry for about 30 seconds. Add the fermented tofu and stir. Add the spinach and stir-fry for a few minutes, allowing ingredients to meld. The spinach will cook down and throw off a great deal of purple liquid, which you can either pour over your rice or leave in the wok.
Taste for salt, which you probably won’t need, then decant into a bowl and try not to eat it all by yourself in the kitchen.
Stir-Fried Spinach With Fermented Red Tofu is wonderful with rice. It’s great as part of a Chinese meal, of course, but it also works beautifully as a vegetable dish in a Western meal.
Stir-Fried Spinach With Fermented Red Tofu keeps, refrigerated, three days in a covered container.
Notes: I used about half of a habanero chili when I made this. It was extremely fiery. Use more or less, to your taste.
Dunlop notes you can also make this with white fermented tofu and water spinach, which is sold in Asian markets.