My husband likes to say he will gladly eat a vegetarian meal.
(Insert eye rolling here.)
But when I cook a vegetarian entree at home, I will see him sneak a few pieces of salami on the side.
What can I expect from someone nicknamed Meat Boy, right?
When I received a review copy of “Vegetarian Dinner Parties” (Rodale, 2014), though, I had high hopes he might actually keep to his word for once.
Not only was the book named the “2015 People’s Choice Award” by the International Association of Culinary Professionals, but it was written by our friends and most prolific cookbook writers, Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough. After all, if you can’t enjoy a vegetarian dish by two people you know and like, when can you?
The cookbook includes 150 meatless meals that are tasty enough and pretty enough to serve to your best company. Find everything from “Squash Noodles with Almond Chimichurri” to “Watermelon Panzanella, Capers, Basil” to “Zucchini Pancakes, Yellow Pepper Relish.” What’s especially nice is that Weinstein and Scarbrough include menu suggestions for every dish, so you can go to town and create a harmonious multi-course feast for your guests.
When I spied Chinese long beans finally making their appearance at my local farmers market, I couldn’t wait to try making their “Coconut Tofu, Sour Beans.”
But since it was such a spur of the moment decision, my “vegetarian dinner party” ended up constituting just me, myself, and yes, Meat Boy.
The dish is a breeze to prepare. Just slice firm tofu into slabs and simmer in a can of coconut milk. Cut up the long beans — I made them slightly larger than the 1/8-inch they suggested because I still wanted their presence to resonate visually — then blanch them in a quick pickling liquid. Drain, then saute them in a wok with aromatics including garlic, ginger, scallions, red pepper flakes, cardamom seeds, soy sauce, Chinese black vinegar, and a few tongue-tingling Sichuan peppercorns.
Lay down a bed of the beans in a serving bowl, then top with a slice of tofu, and a few spoonfuls of the coconut milk. If you are serving this as a main course with steamed rice, you’ll probably want to allot two pieces of tofu per person, a recommendation I added to the recipe below. After all, if you’re serving a non-meat entree to someone like Meat Boy, you want to make sure to provide a filling portion.
The tofu is soft, creamy and mild, a foil to the perky, pickle-y, crisp beans that take on just a hint of spiciness. The coconut milk creates an unctuous, slightly sweet sauce that gives balance to it all.
Meat Boy enjoyed the dish.
I don’t think he even sneaked a pork chop afterward.
At least, I didn’t see him do it.
Coconut Tofu, Sour Beans
(Serves 8 as part of a multi-course dinner or 4 as a main dish with rice)
2 pounds firm tofu, drained and cut into 8 large squares or rectangles
1 3/4 cups regular coconut milk (do not use light)
3 cups distilled white vinegar
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups Chinese long beans, cut into 1/8- or 1/4-inch pieces (see Note)
2 tablespoons peanut oil
3 medium scallions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon cardamom seeds
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Asian black vinegar
1 tablespoon demerara sugar (see Note)
Line a large cutting board or baking sheet with paper towels. Set the tofu pieces on top, then put a layer of paper towels over them and a second cutting board on top. Weight the top cutting board down by placing a heavy saucepan or a couple of cans on top. Set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Bring the coconut milk to a simmer in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Slip the tofu in a single layer into the skillet, then reduce the heat to low and simmer very slowly, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Set aside.
Bring the distilled white vinegar and water to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add the beans and blanch for 1 minute from the time the beans hit the liquid. Drain in a colander set in the sink but do not rinse.
Set a large wok over medium-high heat for a few minutes, then add the peanut oil, followed quickly by the scallions, ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes, Sichuan peppercorns, and cardamom seeds. Stir-fry for 1 minute.
Add the drained beans and stir-fry for 1 minute. Pour in the soy sauce and black vinegar, stir in the sugar. Bring to a full simmer and cook, stirring often, until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes.
To serve, divide the beans among the plates; set one piece of tofu (or two if serving as a main course) on each pile of beans. Bring the coconut milk to a boil in the skillet, now set over high heat. Broil until reduced and slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Drizzle 1 to 2 tablespoons around each plate.
Notes: If you can’t find Chinese long beans, substitute green beans, although the dish’s finish will be less grassy and decidedly sweeter.
Demerara sugar is a course-grained, crunchy unrefined sugar, primarily extracted from sugar cane, not sugar beets. It’s prized for its slightly musky sweetness.
Adopted from “Vegetarian Dinner Parties” by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough
More Recipes to try from Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough: Farro with Nectarines, Basil and Toasted Pine Nuts
And: Chicken Chilaquiles
And: Thyme Roasted Shrimp