Stir-fried five spice tofu and vegetables (nmm heung dul foo chow saw choy)

Stir-fries can be time consuming — finely shredding vegetables, soaking special ingredients, and measuring all the seasonings. But, in a stir-fry such as this, all the work is worth it when you taste the results. The tremendous array of vegetables and seasonings creates a range of textures, tastes, fragrances, and colors.

Five spice tofu is found in the refrigerator case of most Asian grocery stores. It is much firmer than even extra firm tofu, because all the excess water has been pressed out. The tofu is chocolate-colored and is sold in 2-inch squares or 2-by-3 1/2-inch blocks that are 1/2 to 1 inch thick. The dark color is the result of cooking the tofu with five spice seasoning, which both flavors and colors the tofu. See Lotus Root Stir-Fry for information on teem choy poe, or salted turnip.

4 Chinese dried mushrooms
2 ounces salted turnip (teem choy poe)
3 pieces five spice tofu (nmm heung dul foo gawn), about 4 ounces
1 carrot
1 celery stalk
3 fresh water chestnuts
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
1 tablespoon thin soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons Shao Hsing rice cooking wine
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 scallions, cut into 2-inch sections
Cilantro sprigs

In a medium bowl, soak the mushrooms in 1/4 cup cold water for 30 minutes, or until softened. Drain and squeeze dry (reserve the soaking liquid for use in soups). Cut off and discard the stems and thinly slice the caps. In a small bowl, soak the salted turnip in 1 cup cold water for 30 minutes, or until vegetable is only mildly salty. Rinse the salted turnip and pat dry. Cut it into fine shreds to make about 1/2 cup. Discard the water.

Cut the tofu, carrot, and celery into julienne strips. Peel the water chestnuts with a paring knife and then thinly slice. Cut the red and yellow peppers into thin slivers. In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, sugar, white pepper, and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Set aside.

Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or skillet over high heat until hot but not smoking. Add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and the tofu, spreading it in the wok. Sprinkle on the remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt, reduce the temperature to medium, and cook undisturbed 1 to 2 minutes, letting the tofu begin to brown. Then, using a metal spatula, carefully turn the tofu and continue cooking undisturbed 3 to 4 minutes, or until the tofu is lightly browned. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Increase the heat to high and add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and the julienned carrot to the wok; stir-fry 1 minute. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, mushrooms, salted turnip, celery, water chestnuts, peppers, and scallions, and stir-fry 1 minute. Swirl in the reserved soy sauce mixture and tofu, and stir-fry 2 to 3 minutes, or until the vegetables are crisp and tender. Garnish with cilantro sprigs. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6 as part of a multicourse meal.

Taken from Grace Young’s book “The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen” with permission. © Grace Young. Published by Simon & Schuster, Inc. ISBN 0-684-84739-6.