Notes: This Vietnamese dish was adapted from Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table, by Mai Pham (Harper-Collins, NY, 2001).
1 package (12 to 16 oz.) water-packed firm tofu
2 stalks fresh lemon grass (each 10 to 12 in. long)
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons minced fresh hot chili such as Thai bird or serrano
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
About 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup thinly sliced onion
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon salad oil
2/3 cup fresh Thai or regular basil leaves
3 tablespoons chopped unsalted roasted peanuts
4 cups hot cooked rice
How to Make It
Rinse tofu, drain in a colander for about 5 minutes, then pat dry with paper towels. Cut into 3/4-inch cubes and lightly blot with more towels.
Rinse lemon grass. Cut off and discard tough tops and root ends; peel off and discard tough, green outer layers of stalks down to tender white portion of bulbs. Finely chop tender portions; you should have 4 to 7 tablespoons.
In a bowl, mix lemon grass, soy sauce, chili, sugar, turmeric, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Gently stir in tofu. Let marinate for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
In a 10- to 12-inch nonstick frying pan over high heat, stir onion, shallots, and garlic in oil until fragrant, about 1 minute; push to one side of pan. Add tofu mixture. Gently turn cubes occasionally and stir onion mixture until tofu is browned around the edges and onion is soft, 5 to 7 minutes.
Stir in basil leaves and half the peanuts. Add salt to taste. Pour into a serving dish. Garnish with remaining peanuts. Serve with hot cooked rice.
I've had wonderful lemongrass tofu dishes at restaurants, but this recipe falls far short. First off, it's way too salty (the soy sauce alone provides more than enough saltiness). While there is indeed lemongrass, the turmeric drowns out the subtleties of its flavor. Plus, the tofu turns out incredibly dry. Looks like I'll keep chasing the dream.