Zucchini & Carrot with Tofu in a Coconut sauce

A few years ago, I went to Costa Rica’s Vista Del Valle (View of the Valley). It’s a lush self-sustaining hotel that grows its own produce, has an estuary, tropical birds and a butterfly garden pitched atop a mountain that is carved into the tropical forest. Below you will find some of the photos from our trip. The restaurant uses all the produce that grows in the forest, creating surprising dishes from Earth gifts. The head chef there served this dish to me from El Rosario, Costa Rica who graciously shared this simple and outstanding Zucchini & Carrot with Tofu in Coconut Sauce. I decided to post it now, because I just got some fall carrots from my CSA and had some zucchini to throw in. At the bottom of this post you will find directions on how to purchase tofu and make it taste outstanding.

Race Horses flown in from Spain
Outdoor restaurant overlooking the lush mountains. Even the tables are made from the trees that fall in the forest.

Zucchini & Carrot with Tofu in Coconut Sauce

Follow post to the bottom where I make suggestions on how to purchase and make tofu taste great.
Serve this dish over jasmine rice and garnish with some fresh basil for a beautiful presentation.

 Serves 4

 

Ingredients
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 (16 ounce) package of firm tofu, pressed and drained (click on link for directions) and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 medium onion
3 carrots, julienned
2 zucchinis, trimmed and julienned
½ cup Coconut Milk 
½ teaspoon red pepper
1-teaspoon sea salt
Brown Jasmine Rice or your favorite rice
, for serving
 
Directions
  1. Preheat that skillet over high heat. Add about 2 tablespoons of oil. Spread over the surface of the pan. Pat the tofu dry one more time and put it in the skillet it in a single layer, with plenty of room around each piece. Don’t crowd the pan, or the heat will drop too much and the tofu will steam, not brown. You will probably need to do this in two batches if it’s too crowded. Cook on one side until it is deeply golden brown, then flip. If you are doing cubes, it becomes impractical to get all sides of every piece, so instead you’ll just toss them every minute or so and hope to get most of them.  When both sides are done, remove to a plate.
  2.  In the same skillet, heat remaining oil over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion, stirring and shaking the pan, for about 7 minutes or until it just begins to turn translucent. Add the carrots and sprinkle with salt so that the carrots will sweat. Cook, stirring often for 5 minutes. Then add the zucchini and stir to combine with all the other ingredients. Cover the skillet, reduce the heat and let simmer for another 5 minutes.
  3. Uncover the skillet, add the tofu to the vegetables and stir gently. Pour in the coconut milk and red pepper and stir to distribute evenly. You can add salt to taste if you like.
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Crispy Pan-Fried Tofu

 
I use this method in lots of recipes, and frequently for simple stir fry weeknight meals. It is easy to do, takes just minutes, and the results are far superior to simply cutting up cubes and throwing them in your stir-fry.Step 1: Buy Good Tofu. Find a store that moves a lot of tofu so you are getting the freshest tofu available. You want the stuff packed in a rectangular, water filled box (or maybe wrapped in plastic), in the refrigerator section, not the shelf-stable boxes. Choose an extra-firm tofu with the latest expiration date you can find. If you open it and smell more than a tiny whiff of sourness,  or it feels slimy, it isn’t going to be good.
Step 2: Dry Your Tofu. Open the package, drain out the water, and press it. You can follow another post I wrote I pressing tofu here. Cut the tofu into desired cubes or slabs. What we need to do is get the surface of your tofu dry so that it browns up on the skillet. Put down a clean dishtowel. Lay the tofu out in a single layer on said dish towel. Put another clean dishtowel on top and pat well, all over, to remove as much surface moisture as possible. It will also reduce dangerous and unpleasant sputtering when you put it in the skillet.

Step 3: Pan Fry Your Tofu. The optimum pan for this job is a cast iron skillet.  It holds a ton of heat, and develops a lovely non-sticking surface. You will cook this over very high heat, in a flat bottomed skillet because it allows the tofu to stay in contact with the hot surface for longer periods of time.

So: preheat that skillet over high heat. Add about 2 tablespoons of a neutral vegetable oil that can tolerate a high smoke point, like sunflower oil or canola oil. Spread over the surface of the pan. Pat the tofu dry one more time and put it in the skillet it in a single layer, with plenty of room around each piece. Don’t crowd the pan, or the heat will drop too much and the tofu will steam, not brown. You will probably need to do this in two batches if it’s too crowded.
Cook on one side until it is deeply golden brown, then flip. If you are doing cubes, it becomes impractical to get all sides, so instead you’ll just toss them every minute or so and hope to get most of them.  When both sides are done, remove to a plate. Don’t add the vegetables and sauce on top of the tofu. It will ruin the crust. Instead, remove the tofu from the pan, do your vegetables, then add the tofu back just in time to marry with the sauce.

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