Tofu with fresh tomato sauce is common in homes and casual restaurants throughout Việt Nam. Think of it as the country’s spaghetti marinara. With tofu cubes that are crispy on the outside and meltingly tender within, paired with a deeply flavourful tomato sauce, this comfort food creates a simple yet satisfying meal, especially when plated alongside some vegetables.
When ripe tomatoes are not in season, substitute a small (410 g) can of plum tomatoes with their juices, roughly chopped, and reduce the cook time by a few minutes.
- Mushroom Powder ¼ teaspoon (see below)
- Firm Tofu 450 g, cut into 4 cm cubes
- Vegetable Oil 1 Tbs
- Garlic finely chopped, 1 Tbs
- Ripe Plum Tomatoes finely chopped, 1¾ cups
- Soy Sauce 1 Tbs
- Sugar ½ tsp
- Salt ¼ tsp
- Water, Mushroom-soaking Liquid, or Vegetable Stock 1⁄3 cup
- Scallions thinly sliced, ¼ cup
- Freshly Ground Black Pepper ¼ tsp
- Cilantro roughly chopped, 1 Tbs
- Prepare the Mushroom Powder.
- Shallow-fry or deep-fry the tofu cubes.
- Heat the oil in a wok or skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir-fry until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Toss in the tomatoes, soy sauce, sugar, salt, and mushroom powder. Simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomato breaks down. Add the water and simmer gently for about 10 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Stir in the tofu, scallions, and black pepper and cook for another minute to coat the tofu lightly with the sauce. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle the cilantro over the top.
Mushroom powder is magical. It’s meaty, smoky, and filled with intense umami flavour. I prefer the natural glutamates found in dried mushrooms, although Vietnamese vegetarian cooks often turn to a manufactured vegan mushroom seasoning called hạt nêm nấm to impart added savouriness. I add it habitually in small amounts, like salt and pepper, to soups, stir-fries, and braises. Due to their intensity, shiitakes are the ideal mushrooms for this powder. You could substitute sliced Italian porcini although their flavour is more pronounced, and they’re more expensive, as is the shiitake or porcini powder you’ll find in some specialty grocery stores.
- Dried Shiitake Mushrooms 30 g
- Break the mushrooms into smaller pieces with your hands, scissors, or a knife. (Break off the hard stems of large shiitakes and store in the freezer to use when making vegetable stock.) Put into a spice or coffee grinder (or a blender with a narrow bowl) and grind for a couple of minutes. Stop occasionally to use a spoon or spatula to loosen any large pieces that may get stuck under the blades. (Note: When stopping the grinder, leave the top on for a minute or two to allow the mushroom dust to settle.)
- Tip the powder into a small bowl. Gently tap the grinder cover over the bowl or use a spatula or a clean, dry brush to collect any powder that has stuck to it.
- Transfer to a clean, dry jar and store indefinitely in a cool, dry place.
Recipe from Vegetarian Viet Nam by Cameron Stauch. Copyright © 2018 by Cameron Stauch. Reprinted with permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.