Vietnamese tofu

Vietnamese tofu

vietnamese tofu plate

Hope your weekend was peachy, guys? Ours was pretty nice apart from wasting some time in Accident and Emergency and getting exasperated by the state of the health system. For the last 9 days, I have been suffering from some very unpleasant skin sensations on one side of my back. The skin itches, tingles and burns (especially at night) yet there does not seem to be any outward signs of anything being wrong other than three smallish red bumps, which don’t appear to change as the days go by…

Initially, I concluded that I must have been bitten by something and intended to let my body deal with it, but as the symptoms worsened I attempted to make an appointment with my GP. No such luck! No appointments for like forever (over a week to be exact). So I went to a pharmacy and asked for a consultation, which was a waste of time as the pharmacist simply laughed at me as he could not see anything. Really, dude? I appreciate that the lack of obvious skin changes poses a difficulty for him, but he could have been a bit kinder about it. I did not appreciate being treated as a hypochondriac.

When the itching got so bad that it woke me up at 4 AM on Sunday and kept me awake till dawn, I got a bit more desperate. I decided to try my luck in a hospital walk-in centre for minor injuries. 2 hrs of waiting later, I wish I hadn’t. I got told that it is not an emergency and I need to see my GP. Grrr, thanks a bunch! Well, my GP appointment is finally coming up this Thursday and I am praying for this stubborn thing to either go away or at least get much worse or else I won’t get any medical help again.

To distract myself from my back, I’ve been cooking lots and this dish is the first one I’m excited to share with you. Like a few other recipes on this website, this dish was inspired by an extremely disappointing version I had recently at a restaurant. It sounded marvellous on the menu, but it did not live up to expectations. It was completely unseasoned and lacked any flavour whatsoever. The experience has inspired me to try and create a tastier version of it in my own kitchen and I am really happy with the outcome. Since I had lots of lemongrass stalks in my fridge (from my last trip to the Asian greengrocers where I tend to get overexcited and buy too much) I really went for it and used 5 lemongrass stalks in the sauce and I think that it is pretty well balanced, but you can probably get away with just 4 (I know that they tend to sell them in twos in UK supermarkets).

Traditionally, the tofu gets fried for this Vietnamese-inspired dish before it gets immersed in the flavoursome sauce, but if, like me, you are a little oil-phobic, I recommend baking the tofu in the oven instead. My rationale is that it makes the dish healthier and since the tofu gets served in the sauce it loses its crispy texture very quickly anyway, so you won’t miss out that much. Having said that, I did fry it for the photos as it simply looks better and that’s always an important consideration when it comes to the food photography.

vietnamese tofu prep

vietnamese tofu sauce

vietnamese tofu pan close up

vietnamese tofu

makes
4-5
PREP
15 min
COOKING
60 min
makes
4-5
PREPARATION
15 min
COOKING
60 min
INGREDIENTS
SAUCE

  • 5 stalks of lemongrass
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil (plus more if frying the tofu)
  • 4 small shallots, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 2 Thai red chillies, sliced OR sambal oelek to taste
  • 2 tsp fresh grated ginger
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp sea salt, adjust to taste
  • 2 x 400 g / 14 oz can of quality peeled plum tomatoes or 6 medium ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • ¼ tsp ground white pepper (or black if unavailable)
  • 1 tbsp lime juice, adjust to taste
  • 2 tsp coconut sugar (or other), adjust to taste

OPTIONAL SAUCE INGREDIENTS*

TOFU AND REMAINING INGREDIENTS

  • 400 g / 14 oz firm (cotton not silken) tofu, pressed well
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce (or tamari for GF version)
  • cornflour / cornstarch (optional)
  • 3 cups cooked rice
  • 2 spring onions, sliced finely, to garnish
  • fresh coriander and mint, to garnish

METHOD
SAUCE

  1. Remove the tough, outer layer of each lemongrass stalk and discard. Bash the stalks with a rolling pin until crushed then cut approx. 10 cm / 4 inches off the bottom of each lemongrass stalk – keep the tops to infuse the sauce with more flavour. Chop the bottoms very finely and set aside.
  2. Heat up 2 tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan. Once hot, add chopped shallots and fry them off gently until translucent.
  3. Next add in finely chopped lemongrass, garlic, chilli and ginger. Fry on a low heat, stirring frequently, until softened and fragrant.
  4. Add ground cumin, coriander and most of the salt. Fry the spices off for another second or two.
  5. Next add in tinned (or fresh) tomatoes and all their juices into the pan. Break up plum tomatoes with a wooden spoon and add 2 tins of water.
  6. Bring to a gentle boil. Add lemongrass tops, kombu and a dried shiitake (if using).
  7. Allow the sauce to simmer on a very low heat for about 45 minutes or so until excess water evaporates, tomatoes break down and the sauce thickens. If the water has evaporated and the tomatoes are still chunky, feel free to add another splash of water and make sure the pan is on a low heat. Traditionally, this sauce is meant to be fairly loose, but I like it a little bit thicker – adjust the consistency to your own taste.
  8. Remove lemongrass tops, kombu and shiitake (if using). Season with white pepper, more salt (if needed!), lime juice and coconut sugar. If you want the sauce to be smoother, blend it before serving.

TOFU

  1. Cube the tofu and marinate it in soy sauce / tamari until all of it gets absorbed by the tofu.
  2. FRYING

  3. If frying the tofu, sprinkle it with a thin film of cornflour / cornstarch just before you are ready to fry.
  4. Heat up 2 tbsp of frying oil and once the oil gets hot, place the tofu in the pan in a clockwise fashion. Fry for 2-3 minutes on one side before turning etc. Once done, place on a plate lined with a piece of paper towel.
  5. BAKING

  6. If baking the tofu, heat up the oven to 180° C / 355° C. Once the oven comes to temperature, bake the tofu for about 20-25 minute, turning it once half way through.

NOTES
*Traditionally this sauce is flavoured with pungent fish sauce. If, like me, you have trouble finding a decent vegan equivalent, but enjoy the umami taste it adds, simply put one dried shiitake mushroom and a small piece of kombu into the sauce when it simmers. If you prefer a cleaner lemongrass flavour, skip both.

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NUTRITIONAL INFO
calories
432
22%
sugars
13 g
14%
fats
12 g
17%
saturates
2 g
9%
proteins
19 g
37%
carbs
63 g
24%
*per serving
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4.9
8 reviews, 20 comments
REVIEWS & QUESTIONS
grace:
I concur with the 5 stalks of lemongrass- the flavour came beautifully through the tomato. I enjoyed the texture of the sauce but will be blending it next time to accomodate the braces wearing member of the household
    Ania
    Ania:
    Yay, thanks Grace - glad you think so too and that it was enjoyed. Yes, absolutely, as an adult brace wearer myself I totally agree that the texture can be problematic, especially in those early months (it does get a lot better though). x Ania
Nancy Reich:
Although you posted this quite some time ago, your skin condition on your back sounds like shingles. It's from the chicken pox virus.
    Ania
    Ania:
    Hi Nancy,
    Yes, it was! It is a distant memory now luckily. Ania
Pauline:
First things first, this was delicious. The lemongrass flavour was lovely (although I did try to use fresh but it was a bit tough so used some lemongrass paste which I had in the fridge and used the fresh for flavour when simmering). I baked the tofu and that was perfect for us. Adding mint is such a great idea too it really compliments the dish. Will definitely make this again. Thanks
    Ania
    Ania:
    Thanks Pauline, I am delighted to hear that you enjoyed it! And thank you for taking the time to let me and my readers know that you did – much appreciated! Ania
Molly:
I made this tonight and it was very flavorful. I love lemongrass, but I had never cooked with it until now.
I actually used soy curls instead of tofu just because I was making a cabbage and carrot slaw along with this that had tofu as well. The soy curls were good--but as you noted, any crispiness from pan-frying gets lost when it goes in the sauce. I'll try baking next time for a healthier preparation.
Fresh tomatoes worked really well too.
I look forward to checking out more of your recipes.
    Ania
    Ania:
    Thanks so much, Molly - I am delighted that you enjoyed it! x Ania
Makita:
I totally love tofu :-) Can you also recommend a wine which is suitable with this dish? Thanks, Makita
    Ania
    Ania:
    I imagine that a summery white would pair nicely, but I am not much of a drinker myself (or a wine buff) so cannot really help you here. Ania
Grahame:
Hi Ania, that's a lovely recipe. I was determined to try it as we have a very good Vietnamese restaurant nearby, whose tofu is the best in the known universe. By coincidence, a friend called round tonight so I had a willing victim to try out the recipe, and got full marks from them, so thank you!
I didn't manage to find any coriander today, but it was just fine without it (I also used pre-marinated tofu to save hassle). But a big 'thumbs up' all round. Will definitely try this one again!
Hope your shingles improve soonest.
    Ania
    Ania:
    Thanks, Grahame! I'm glad you enjoyed it! And thanks, yes, my shingles seems to be on its way out, thankfully...x Ania
Catríona Holden:
Don't want to be intrusive, could be a sign of kidney issues,head to a seasoned acupuncturist whilst waiting for your *doctor*-good luck C
    Ania
    Ania:
    Thanks, Catríona, but I've just been to my GP and his diagnosis is shingles...:(. It was worth waiting 2 weeks to find that out :P . Ania
Afshan:
I love your recipes and will surely try this one as my lemon grass plant needs some thinning out as well.
On a side note, the three bumps and itchiness sounds a lot like bed bugs actually. Hope it heals!
    Ania
    Ania:
    Thanks Afshan, I hope you'll enjoy the recipe! X Ania
    PS: I see where you are coming from, but that's extremely unlikely as I've just moved into a new house and have a brand new mattress and wooden floors (no carpet or rug).
JulieT:
I was going to mention shingles also. AND I understand you can have shingles pain etc without an outward physical sign. It can affect the nerves without seeing it on the skin. Unusual but it can happen! So don't let them make you think you are a hypochondriac and stay on it. There are antiviral meds that can really help the pain and symptoms! (Not a Doc! but have had several bouts starting in my 40's so I feel your pain!) Hope you get some relief soon!
    Ania
    Ania:
    Aw, thanks Julie, that's so good to know as they have been making me feel like I'm making stuff up to get attention. Very frustrating. Sorry to hear you know all that from personal experience :( I hope it won't return again. x Ania
Nancy:
This will be Friday's dinner! Good luck with the appointment, I've have the same symptoms you describe, I hope you get some resolve.
    Ania
    Ania:
    Yay, I'm delighted to hear that! I hope you'll enjoy this dish. Thank you (I am seeing my GP today) and I hope you will do too! x Ania
Corina:
Is there any pain on your back?! It might be shingles (doc here :)
    Ania
    Ania:
    Yes, there is. Not debilitating pain, but it's certainly there and I am aware of it 24/7. I am seeing my GP tomorrow night so hopefully he won't as dismissive as other have been. Thank you :) x Ania
Duane Billingslea:
A lovely recipe and thank you for sharing this.
On a side note: did any one even bother to check you for shingles or measles? Since this is a personal issue, please do not answer here. I just bring it up out of frustration.
    Ania
    Ania:
    Thank you!
    Funny you should say that, shingles was my guess too, but clearly my symptoms weren't serious enough, not sure...
Bob Bush:
Such a beautiful looking dish! It has everything I love, from my favorite cuisine! Thank you so much!!!!
    Ania
    Ania:
    Aw, thanks so much, Bob! I'm excited that you are thinking of making it and I really hope you'll enjoy the flavour. x Ania
Rachel Griffin:
Sounds great, I'll definitely try it!
    Ania
    Ania:
    Great to hear, Rachel! I hope you'll enjoy it! x Ania
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