Saturday, May 28, 2011

Farmer's Market Stir-Fry Recipe

It’s an exciting day today on the Hungry Traveler: my first recipe post! Actually this is more of a technique than a real recipe, and so rather than write up a conventional recipe formula, I’ll just describe what I did step-by-step. I am going to assume that most people reading this have a fairly good idea of how to cook up a basic stir-fry and know their own tastes and preferences; this is a recipe to be played around with.

This dish was inspired by a cooking demo I saw at the Markt outdoor market last Friday (hence the recipe title), an extremely simple stir-fry using the ubiquitous white asparagus that is still flooding the vegetable stands here. 

Notice the nifty asparagus peeler.

After blanching the sliced asparagus, the chef tossed it into a giant wok with some oil (just plain canola as far as I could tell), sautéing it along with some fresh mango, pineapple, and scallions, adding a few good glugs of Indonesian sweet soy sauce at the end. The last part caught my attention (I’ve already documented my new-found love of the stuff), and knowing I had a bottle at home, and taking into account Todd and my love for Asian-style food, I decided to adapt it at home. Because I wanted this to be more of a full meal, I decided to add some tofu and to serve it over udon noodles, and to change up the vegetables as well, grabbing a zucchini and a kohlrabi from the market. I ended up with a dish that was as tasty as the one I tried at the market, yet completely my own.

First, things first, you’ll need some tofu. This gets tricky because I’m not sure how easy it is to find the kind I used. 

It was labeled simply “dried bean curd” at the Asian supermarket where I bought it and comes ready to eat (just heat and serve); it is clearly marinated in something, possibly just soy sauce, and is hard and somewhat rubbery in texture (and honestly not really my cup of tea, but Todd likes it). You may be able to find something similar at ethnic or Asian stores near you. If not, I imagine this would work with regular firm tofu, just make sure to pat it really dry, and then either in a separate pan or, if you want to do this all in one pan, before you sauté the vegetables, stir-fry the cubed tofu in some oil until golden, then set it aside.

Now slice up an onion and sauté that in some oil (I used olive oil because that’s what I had on hand, and I don’t want to buy too much kitchen stuff here because I’m leaving in about a month [!], but I think canola or peanut oil would be preferable). I like my onions nice and brown, so I usually get them in first. Once those are getting soft, add your aromatics: I used about a tablespoon of fresh minced ginger, and if you have some garlic you can throw that in too (I didn’t).

Next up comes the other veggies. You have a wide range of options here: like I said, the original inspirational dish uses white asparagus, which would be great if it’s in season where you live. Embrace the recipe title and go with whatever seasonal produce you can find at the market or grocery store near you. I used zucchini and kohlrabi, which worked really well: the zucchini slices collapsed on themselves grew soft, while the kohlrabi retained a bit of crunch. If you go the kohlrabi route, just make sure to cut it really small and to start it before the zucchini so it has time to cook through; I actually flattened the cubes of kohlrabi out in the pan for a bit before stir-frying it to let some of the sides get nice and brown and crusty.

Once the veggies are almost done cooking, but not quite, throw in either some pineapple (fresh or canned; the market chefs used fresh, I used canned, both tasted good, though the canned pieces seemed to have less structure and fell apart more easily. No big deal). The first time I made this I didn’t have pineapple, but added a few big handfuls of bean sprouts. If you have scallions you probably want to add them now, too (I didn’t, because apparently the only way to buy scallions here is in enormous bundles that would just end up mostly going to waste in our household). Sprinkled everything with salt and freshly ground pepper. Not too much salt though, because next comes the key ingredient: a few good glugs of Indonesian soy sauce, or ketjap manis. You remember it, right?

If you can’t get this slightly sweeter variety, I’m sure regular soy sauce would be fine, maybe with a pinch or two of sugar added? Nestle your pieces of tofu in among the vegetables, toss everything around a bit, then turn the heat up and let that bubble and sizzle away until it’s nice and reduced and the veggies and tofu are glazed. It will smell amazing and turn a lovely burnished brown color (sorry, forgot to take pics of the finished dish. Next time!) which means it’s done.

You can serve this over rice or soba noodles, or do what I did and pick up a packet of fresh udon from your local Asian market. 

This is the market, by the way. It's absolutely fascinating, I love going in even though the writing on almost every package is almost entirely in either Asian characters or Dutch, so I don't know what most of it is.

The fresh noodles are great because you basically just heat and serve. They take no time at all to cook; the package directions said to boil the udon for three minutes and they were almost overdone by two. You can also stir-fry the noodles with the other ingredients for a crisper texture, but I already had a pretty full pan to work with, so I went the boiled route. Todd likes them plain, but maybe try flavoring them separately with a couple drops of the soy sauce and/or sesame oil? That would probably be tasty, too.

As I mentioned before, this is clearly a recipe to be tweaked and played around with til you come up with something that suits your tastes. I’ve made it twice now with slight variations each time. The first time I skipped the pineapple (which I don’t recommend, as I think it added nice bursts of sweetness to the dish) and went heavier on the pepper; the second go-round I omitted the bean sprouts (the leftovers had gone bad; note to self, 250 grams of bean sprouts is way too much!) and went heavier on the ginger. Next time I might try different veggies (snap peas would probably be good, as would bok choy, broccoli, etc.), or a different kind of tofu. Seitan or tempeh would probably work really well here, and for the carnivores out there I could see it being great with chicken, pork or shrimp. If anyone out there gives this a try, post your tweaks and recommendations in the comments!

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