Tag Archives: vegetarian

(Sort of) Spicy Green Beans and Tofu

The challenge was to turn these:

into a dish that Lupe would eat.

Here’s my solution:

This is fast and doesn’t require a lot of ingredients. Here we’ve got 1 14-ounce package of tofu, cubed and patted dry, about 1 1/2 cups of trimmed, chopped green beans, and a sauce made of soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, garlic, and Sambal Oelek chili paste (found at Asian markets as well as many grocery stores). If you don’t have the ingredients for this sauce, it’s fine to substitute with teriyaki or some other sauce.

I had an instance of Mommy Brain and forgot to pull the sesame seeds for this picture.

Heat a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of canola oil and carefully put the tofu in the pan once the oil is hot. Stir it around often. After a few minutes, it’ll start to brown on all sides. Add the green beans. I try to use fairly thinnish green beans, which is hard because the kids are tempted to pick the biggest, plumpest green beans they find on the vines. Cook, stirring frequently, until the green beans are cooked but still crisp.

Add the sauce and stir constantly, about 30-60 seconds, about enough time to cook the garlic and season the tofu and green beans, without overcooking the vegetable.

Meanwhile, heat a second, smaller skillet over medium heat. Add about 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds and toast for just a few minutes. Move them around the pan often. Sprinkle over the green beans and tofu. We like to eat this over rice.

But it’s also pretty tasty straight out of the pan.

(Sort of) Spicy Green Beans and Tofu

serves 4


1 14-ounce package of tofu (we prefer firm or extra-firm), cubed and patted dry

1 1/2 cups of trimmed and cut green beans

1 tablespoon canola oil for frying

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

scant 1 tablespoon sugar

1 clove of garlic

1/2 tablespoon-1 tablespoon of ground fresh chili paste

1 tablespoon sesame seeds


1. Mix the soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, garlic, and chili paste together in a small bowl. Set aside.

2. Heat a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the canola oil.

3. When the oil is hot, add the tofu, being careful not to cause the oil to splatter. Stir frequently until the tofu begins to brown on all sides, about 3-5 minutes.

4. Add the green beans and stir often.

5. After about 2 minutes, or when the green beans are done but still slightly crunchy, add the sauce. Stir constantly, until all the tofu and green beans are coated.

6. Remove from heat after about 30-60 seconds.

7. In the meantime, heat a small skillet over medium heat. Toast the sesame seeds until lightly browned. Sprinkle over the green beans and tofu.


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Banh Mi–Vietnamese Sandwiches

This one’s for Darcy, who asked for ideas about what the heck to do with a brick of tofu.

We had to make sure that our Vietnamese heritage was represented at Lupe’s school’s first ever Multicultural Night, and we tried to do it proud. So we made a Vietnamese cuisine staple–banh mi. Traditional banh mi is made with pork sausage or slices of head cheese wedged into a hunk of crusty French bread. (If you want to skip ahead to the gluten-free option, scroll down a bit.)

Head cheese doesn’t do it for me.

So we stuffed our sandwiches with marinated tofu.

In a 9 x 13 baking dish: one pound of firm tofu, divided into 8 slices. Mix 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1 tablespoon fresh ginger (1 teaspoon ground), 1 teaspoon pepper, 1 tablespoon oil, 2 tablespoons honey, 1/2 teaspoon chili paste, and 1 teaspoon sesame seeds in a small bowl. Pour it over the tofu, which you should then flip to make sure both sides get a turn to swim in the marinade. Bake in a 375 degree oven about 20 minutes, flipping the tofu slices once.

This tofu would be delicious served over a bowl of steaming rice, but if you’ve got the time and want to go ahead with sandwiches or the gluten-free option listed below, please proceed.

This recipe is turning into a Choose Your Own Adventure book.

You need something cool, crunchy, spicy, and sweet to put in that sandwich. Let’s go with marinated daikon radish and carrot:

Put 1 cup julienned carrots into a small bowl or jar.

This is a daikon radish. You’ll find it as international markets; I’ve seen it at my neighborhood grocery stores too. Cut off a hunk. Peel it. You’ll reveal an iridescent white flesh. Cut the hunk into quarters…

Then slice and julienne.

Mix 2 tablespoons sugar into a half cup of rice wine vinegar, stir until the sugar’s completely dissolved, then pour over the julienned vegetables. You can store this in the refrigerator for a couple of days if you need to.

Take a loaf of good, crusty French bread and cut it up. Put a slice or two of the cooled tofu on first, followed by some sliced cucumber, the marinated daikon radish/carrot, then top with a sprig of cilantro.

Banh Mi with baked tofu, cucumbers, marinated daikon radish and carrots, and sprigs of fresh cilantro

The problem with this meal is that the gluten in the bread will trigger an eczema outbreak for Lupe, so let’s make a gluten-free option:

Boil some rice noodles. These usually come in packs within the bag. Boil one pack if you just want enough for yourself and maybe one or two other people. Boil the whole bag if you’re cooking for a crowd. Rinse the cooked noodles to stop the cooking process.

Toss with cubed tofu and all the veggies.

Banh Mi with Tofu (Vietnamese Sandwiches)

(makes enough for a small party or potluck)

2 long crusty French baguettes (or thin rice noodles if going gluten-free)

1 English cucumber, sliced into lengths

1 bunch cilantro

Tofu (recipe follows)

Marinated daikon radish and carrot (recipe follows)

Ingredients for the Tofu:

1 pound firm, tofu, divided into eight slices

1/4 cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon fresh ginger (1 teaspoon ground)

1 teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 tablespoons honey

1/2 teaspoon chili paste

1 teaspoon sesame seeds (optional)

Directions for the Tofu:

1. Mix the soy sauce, ginger, pepper, oil, honey, chili paste, and sesame seeds (optional) in a small bowl.

2. Pour it over the tofu, and flip to make sure both sides get covered.

3. Bake in a 375 degree oven about 20 minutes, flipping the tofu slices once.

Ingredients for the Marinated Daikon Radish and Carrot

1 cup julienned carrots

1 cup julienned daikon radish

1/2 cup rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

Directions for the Marinated Daikon Radish and Carrot

1. Put the julienned carrots and daikon radishes in a small bowl or a jar.

2. Completely dissolve the sugar in the rice wine vinegar.

3. Pour over the julienned vegetables.

4. Will keep covered in the refrigerator for a couple of days.

Putting it all together:

1. Slice the baguettes into small sandwich portions.

2. Put on a slice or two of the cooled tofu, followed by some sliced cucumber, the marinated daikon radish/carrot, then top with a sprig of cilantro

Gluten-Free Option:

Replace the bread with thin rice noodles that have been cooked according to package directions and cooled. Toss with cubed tofu and vegetables, and serve in a bowl. Or simply serve the tofu over rice.


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Spring Rolls

The sun was out, the mercury topped sixty, and all signs pointed to spring. So we made spring rolls.

My mom makes amazing spring rolls with all sorts of different fillings–salmon, pork and shrimp, tofu, and just veggies. Tonight, I had a box of tofu that I wanted to use up. I prefer my tofu fried in a little oil. I like the crunchy outside and soft middle of fried tofu.

Nacho Man loves these. For years, he and my mom ribbed me about the fact that I couldn’t roll a spring roll that didn’t look like an overstuffed sausage. When I asked him how come he was so good at it, he looked at me and said, “It’s like rolling a burrito.”

Fusion family, fusion cooking.

You’ll need a dip for the spring rolls. When I was younger, I wouldn’t go anywhere near nuoc mam, a traditional dipping sauce that has fish sauce as a base. My¬† mom would make me a separate sauce of soy sauce, a little water and sugar, and chili paste. But once Nacho Man and I were together and I’d watch him dive spring roll after spring roll into nuoc mam, I decided to give it another try. Now, it’s my sauce of choice, too. Spring rolls just don’t taste right without them.

Spring rolls are definitely more involved than throwing a pot of water on the stove and boiling spaghetti, which we do a fair share of here. But if you have a little extra time or energy to devote to prep work and construction, spring rolls are a great way to break out of a midweek food rut. As long as you’re going to the effort, make a lot of them, wrap them individually, and refrigerate them. You’ll be the envy of everyone in the staff lunch room the following day.

Slice your tofu and set it between two paper towels.

Heat some oil in a large, deep frying pan on medium-high heat. Fry the tofu in small batches, flipping once, until they’re golden brown. Set the fried tofu on another set of clean paper towels.

Rice paper and rice stick. You need to cook the rice stick in boiling water. You also need to boil water to soften the rice paper.

Don’t worry about breaking apart the sheet of rice stick before you put it in the pot of boiling water.

Just submerge the entire sheet. It’ll start to soften immediately, so don’t walk away from it. Stir. These noodles cook in just a couple of minutes and need to be drained, then rinsed in cold water right away, or you’ll have paste.

My production line. That bowl of water is for the rice paper. Quickly rotate the rice paper through the hot water. If the water’s too hot, or you take too long moving the rice paper through it, you’ll get a sticky, unworkable mess. I know this from experience. It’s okay. One quick rotation through the water is all it needs. Set the dampened rice paper on a clean work surface. It might still feel a little crispy, but it will continue to soften.

Filling goes on the bottom of the softened spring roll wrapper.

Bring the sides in.

Tuck the bottom of the wrapper over the filling and roll.

Now for the nuoc mam. Mix 1 part fish sauce, 1 part vinegar, and 2 parts water into a large bowl. Add 1 part sugar and stir until dissolved.

Can you take it?

Serve with tangy, spicy nuoc mam.

Spring Rolls with Tofu


spring roll wrappers

dried rice stick noodles

1 block of tofu, cut into strips

2 carrots, julienned (shredded if you want to save some time)

half an English cucumber, cut into sticks

cilantro (optional)

Thai basil (optional)

lettuce (optional)

your oil of choice for frying (olive oil not recommended)


1. Set the tofu strips between paper towels.

2. Bring a pot of water to boil for the rice stick noodles.

3. Set a large, deep frying pan on medium-high heat. Add the oil. Fry the tofu strips in batches, flipping once, until they are golden brown on each side. Set the fried tofu on a plate with clean, dry paper towels.

4. Bring a teakettle of water to a boil. When it comes to a boil, take the kettle off the heat so the water can cool a bit.

5. Cook noodles according to package directions. Be sure not to overcook them, and rinse them in cold water as soon as they are finished cooking.

6. Pour the teakettle water into a large, shallow dish. Set the rice paper, cooked noodles, tofu, and vegetables nearby in an assembly line.

7. Rotate a piece of rice paper through the dish of water. If the water’s too hot or you leave the rice paper in it for too long, it’ll turn sticky and unmanageable. The key is to let the water cool slightly, and move the rice paper through it rapidly.

8. Set the rice paper on a clean work surface, such as a cutting board.

9. Add ingredients to one end of the rice paper. I like to place the lettuce first (didn’t use any on this night), followed by noodles, tofu (or meat), vegetables, and herbs.

10. Roll the rice paper as though it’s a burrito. Fold the sides in, pull the bottom corner up over the filling, then roll.

Nuoc Mam


A little goes a long way; I usually combine 1/4 cup of the fish sauce, vinegar, and sugar with 1/2 cup of the water, and it makes plenty for a large family dinner or to save. This will keep in the refrigerator for a very long time.

1 part fish sauce

1 part vinegar

1 part sugar

2 parts water

chili paste to taste


1. Combine the fish sauce, vinegar, and water in a large bowl.

2. Add the sugar. Stir until dissolved. Test and adjust flavors if needed.

3. Add chili paste to taste.

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Eat Your Spinach…Or I Will

Mom's Sauteed Spinach

There were some foods that I would never touch as a kid. My palate was too Americanized for dishes that I perceived to be too ethnic. My mom made chicken drumsticks with fresh ginger. Didn’t like it. I turned up my nose at anything that was seasoned with fish sauce. There was a time when I preferred ramen to pho.

Now, I’d give anything for those barbecued chicken drumsticks with fresh ginger. I decided to give fish sauce another try about a dozen years ago when I saw Nacho Man dipping his spring rolls into it with gusto, and I’m glad I did. And pho–well, I’ve obviously made such an about-face that I named this blog after that dish. But there were other foods that I would always wolf down because I loved the way my mom cooked them. I’ll eat any tofu dish she sets in front of me, which I never considered strange until my friends started making yuck noises in high school. Whatever. I just ate their portions, too. Tofu is incredible and you’ll definitely be seeing some recipes posted here in the near future. Luckily, Nacho Man loves tofu.

But I’m here to talk about spinach. I’m not a big fan of raw spinach, but I’ve always loved the way Mom prepared it. Hot, wilted, spiced up with garlic and soy sauce and chili paste. Put it on top of a bowl of steaming rice and I’m in a very good place. It also makes a great side dish for tofu or chicken, pork, or fish.

I’ve seen other versions of this recipe that use balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, and red pepper flakes. So I’m not claiming that it’s authentic to any particular food culture; I just love the way my mom put her spin on it. I also like that it’s versatile enough that you can season it even if you don’t have the particular ingredients my mom uses and still get something really tasty.

The best thing about this dish? It’s a great way to use spinach that’s a little past its prime. I could tell you that I always use the freshest ingredients, but that would be a lie. We all have moments when we rifle through the crisper, desperately hoping to find something that hasn’t liquified in its plastic bag. I don’t want to waste food. I don’t think you want to, either. So let’s turn it into something really wonderful.

Mom’s Sauteed Spinach

Because you’re dealing with high heat and garlic, make sure you have all your ingredients assembled near the stove before you turn on the heat.

Seasonings for Mom's Sauteed Spinach


1 6-ounce bag of pre-washed baby spinach, or the equivalent of a fresh bunch of spinach

1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (alter to suit your tastes)

3/4 tablespoon of soy sauce (Right now we really like San-J organic, gluten free soy sauce, but use what you have on hand)

1/2 teaspoon of chili paste (available at Asian specialty markets or the international foods aisle of your local grocery store)

1 tablespoon olive oil for the pan


1. Wash the spinach, regardless of whether it’s pre-washed, and dry in a salad spinner or between paper towels or clean kitchen cloths.

2. Mix the chili paste into the soy sauce.

3. Heat a medium-sized skillet on medium-high heat. Add olive oil.

4. Add the garlic and stir constantly.

5. After about 20-30 seconds, add the spinach. Flip it in the pan so that it wilts evenly.

Wilt, Spinach, Wilt!

6. When the spinach is wilted, add the soy sauce-chili paste mixture.

7. Taste, and adjust seasonings accordingly. Better to err on the side of caution with soy sauce and chili paste. But if you like your food brackish and spicy, then have at it.

Serve immediately.

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