Sunday, October 14, 2012

Chinese Braised Tofu and Eggplant with Ground Pork

It looks like we are making up for the lack of recent Chinese meals with a vengeance.  First there was the Fish-Fragrant Eggplant (Yu Xiang Qie Zi), then there was the Brussels Sprouts Fried Rice with Crispy Cauliflower (which isn't exactly traditional but I am including it since it is fried rice) and now this braised tofu dish.  I'm not even counting the Roast Corn with Spicy Miso Butter or the Asian-Marinated Flank Steak that we served it with, although those dishes were also Asian-inspired.  So I am thinking that I might move on from Chinese for a little while and try some other cuisines.  I am thinking about doing a few farmers' market-inspired meals at the beginning of the week (celery root and apple soup and warm mushroom salad anyone?) and then trying out a few recipes from the Indian subcontinent that I found in Mangoes and Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels Through the Great Subcontinent.  There is a green tomato curry that I am particularly intrigued by.  And I just so happened to pick up 2 pounds of green tomatoes at the farmers' market this morning and curry leaves at Kalustyans this afternoon.  So we are good to go.  Stay tuned for that recipe.  But I think we should shift our focus from China to other continents (or subcontinents).  And then maybe we will return to China the following week.

This recipe was homey, warm and comforting - the type of dish that warms you from the inside out.  My Chinese grandmother never made tofu for me, but this dish screams Chinese grandmother to me.  It was absolutely perfect for a brisk fall day.  The original recipe on Steamy Kitchen called for a pound of ground pork (and we used an entire pound although I wanted to use half of the package - Alex said using half was more complicated than it was worth and dumped the whole shebang in there), but I thought that was way too much pork.  I would definitely recommend cutting it down to half a pound (although if you are into meat, then go for the full pound).  The original recipe also didn't use eggplant, but I loved the Japanese eggplant in there.  I might even up the amount of eggplant next time.  The eggplant soaks up so much flavor and has such a wonderful soft texture (without being mushy).  Alex said that what he remembers best about the eggplant was "bursts of flavor."  I just thought it was delicious.  If you are not an eggplant fan, then you can omit it but you might actually surprise yourself if you try it...

Recipe after the jump!

Chinese Braised Tofu and Eggplant with Ground Pork
Adapted from Steamy Kitchen

1 block firm or extra firm tofu
1 medium Japanese eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 tbsp vegetable or peanut oil, separated
1/2 lb ground pork, beef, turkey or chicken
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp ginger, minced
1 1/2 cup chicken broth
3 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/4 cup cool water
1 (generous) tsp cornstarch
kosher salt
2 scallion2, green and white parts, thinly sliced on the bias
1/2 tsp sesame oil

Drain the tofu and place on towels or paper towels.  To get rid excess water in the tofu, place another towel on top of the tofu, then place something flat and heavy (like a cutting board or a cast iron frying pan) on top.  You can weigh the cutting board down by putting a couple of cans of soup on top.  Let sit for 10 minutes.  Cut the tofu into several slices 3/4" thick. Season on both sides with s&p. 

Heat a wok or large saute pan over medium-high heat.  When hot, swirl in the cooking oil. Very carefully add the tofu slices in one layer.  Fry for 1-2 minutes or until the bottom is nicely golden-brown, then flip to fry the other side for 1-2 minutes or until both sides are golden-brown.  Remove the seared tofu to a clean plate.  Set aside.  Add 1-2 tbsp oil (depending on how dry the pan is when you take out the tofu).  Once the oil is hot, add the eggplant cubes and stir-fry until it begins to turn golden brown, about 3-4 minutes.  Add eggplant to the plate with the tofu.

To the same wok, add in the ground meat. Saute until browned, about 2 minutes. Add in the garlic and the ginger and stir fry for 30 seconds.

Add in the chicken broth, oyster sauce and soy sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together the water and the cornstarch.  In the wok, stir in the water and cornstarch mixture and bring everything to a simmer.  Lower the heat to medium-low.  Let simmer for 5 minutes, until thickened.  Add eggplant and simmer for 5 minutes.  Return the tofu to the pan and simmer for 5 more minutes.  Remove from heat and mix in scallions and sesame oil (if desired).

Serve with rice.

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