The Mystery of the Lost Cookbook
Through the front door lies my not-so-secret addiction. Some are old–very old, in fact, with quirky tattered covers and retro illustrations. Others are new, their seductive pages splashed with enticing photos. My cookbook gluttony stretches across nations, genres, and subjects. One would think a missing cookbook would be no big deal, but there they sit, 94 in all, the 95th missing in action, and just when I’m craving my favorite crispy sweet chile glazed tofu.
Tracing my steps meal by meal, I thought back to moving boxes and friends’ dinner parties, but couldn’t crack the case. Maybe it was Colonel Mustard in the dining room, or Mrs. White in the conservatory…Or, perhaps, I accidentally returned it to my library along with my other borrowed books. In any case, it’s gone, and I have been haunted by its memory ever since.
I can still see the creamy white pages of The Best International Recipe, spotted with rogue splats of oil and sauce. I used to think that some of the explanations were a little type-A, but what’s Cook’s Illustrated for if not to test all the methods that I lack the time to test on my own?
I pouted for a while, then did what any sane girl would do, and tried to recreate the recipe from memory. The details were a bit hazy, and as with all recollections of the past, my mind has embellished the original a bit. I did, however, remember the tofu in detail–coated with cornstarch and cornmeal, fried until golden and audibly crispy when snacked on pre-dinner (cook’s prerogative).
I had to do a little playing with the glaze. I knew the basics–chile garlic sauce, sugar, and cornstarch. My spotty memory told me that the glaze included pineapple juice, but I’m pretty sure I made that part up. No matter though, the glaze was just what I was after–sticky, sweet, sour and spicy with a hint of pineapple. To accompany, the mister suggested broccolini from the garden, onion, red bell pepper and carrot (which complemented the tofu nicely). I stir-fried the veggies simply in oil and added soy sauce and a drizzle of sesame oil at the end. I’m sure I’ve taken some liberties in my re-creation of this dish, but the essence of the dish was as I remembered it.
Dear cookbook: I’ve missed your neurotic attention to detail. I saved a space for you on your favorite shelf. Please come home.
- For the Glaze:
- 1 cup pineapple juice
- ½ cup water
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2-3 tablespoons chile garlic paste, such as sambal oelek (to taste depending on desired level of spiciness)*
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
- 1½ tablespoons cornstarch
- For the tofu:
- 1 block medium-firm tofu (14 ounces), cut into 1-inch cubes
- ¾ cups cornstarch
- ¼ cup cornmeal
- salt to taste
- olive or coconut oil, for frying
- For the stir fry:
- 1 medium (or two small) onion, cut into bite-sized squares
- 1 red bell pepper, sliced into short strips
- 3 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 small head broccoli or broccolini, cut into bite-sized pieces (the stem may be thinly sliced)
- 2 green onions, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon olive or peanut oil
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 cups jasmine rice, cooked according to package directions
- For the glaze:
- Whisk all of the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until the glaze bubbles and thickens. Cover and set aside.
- Stir Fry the Vegetables:
- Heat the oil in a wok, large frying pan, or saucepan. Add the onions, bell pepper, and carrot and cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring often, until almost crisp-tender. Add the broccoli, soy sauce and sesame oil. Cook for an additional 2 minutes, or until all the vegetables are crisp-tender. Cover and set aside.
- Place the tofu on a plate lined with a few layers of paper towels to drain. Place a few layers of paper towels on top of the tofu, and press gently to extract more of the moisture. Once drained, season the tofu with salt.
- Mix the cornstarch with the cornmeal and salt in a small bowl. Fill a non-stick saucepan with 1½ inches of canola oil, and heat over medium-high heat until shimmering.
- Working in batches, toss the tofu in the cornstarch mixture to thoroughly coat. Fry the tofu immediately after coating until golden and crispy. Spread the tofu on a plate lined with a few layers of paper towels to drain.
- Put the fried tofu into the wok with the vegetables. Pour the glaze over, and gently toss until thoroughly coated. Garnish with the green onion and serve over rice while hot.
- *Sambal Oelek can be found in the Asian aisle of most grocery stores