Monday, February 1, 2010

Scallion Pancakes, and Tofu Kids Will Gobble (Really!)

Scallion pancakes

For this week's Monday Meal Challenge, we're going to answer the question, "How do you get kids to eat tofu?" You make this recipe, my friends, and you will have at least given it your best shot. My currently-picky toddler actually eats this (a dwindling list, I'll tell you), and my five-year-old exclaims things like, "Mom, you make the best tofu!"

Have you ever wanted to hear that sentence? Read on...

Stir-Fried Tofu and Veggies

1 block extra-firm tofu
1 small head of broccoli, cut into small florets
1 cup mung bean sprouts
2 carrots, sliced thinly on the diagonal
1/4 cup (or so) peanut or safflower oil (oil for high heat)
1/3 cup stir-fry sauce (make your own or use the bottled stuff from the store)

First off, you gotta get the extra-firm tofu. Mushy tofu might have its uses (I guess I'm still trying to figure out what they are), but it doesn't belong in this dish. Not just firm, EXTRA-firm. Now, I want you to pause for a moment when you're standing there in the store and admire the price tag. This is instead of meat, people. How much money would a pound of boneless chicken breast cost you? A lot more than this. Just think, you are eating healthy and saving money! I love that.

Here's the other secret to delicious tofu -- press it. If you've never done this, it is super easy, but also essential to getting really nice, crisp tofu. (I like it crisp. No mush!) Take your block of tofu out of the package. Mmm, doesn't that look good?

Mmm, big block of tofu!

Now, cut it in thirds sideways, like you're slicing it into slabs one-third the depth of the original block. Here, let me show you.

Slice it this-a-way

Got it? Okay, now put these three slabs on a large plate covered with three paper towels. (Or a few layers of cloth napkins, if you're anti-paper. I use cloth for lots of things, but paper towels still have their uses in my book, and this is one of them -- but suit yourself.) Put another couple layers of paper/cloth on top, and then top off with a second large plate. Now find something heavy to stick on top of this sandwich (I used the dog food canister).

Pressing tofu

Leave it for a while. At least half an hour or so. This will remove a lot of the moisture from the tofu and get it dry enough to crisp up in the oil. If you don't do this, your tofu will either a) crumble, or b) stay mushy. Ew! Press your tofu and you will be glad you did. (Eternal thanks to Mark Bittman, who taught me this tip in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.)

When you're done pressing the tofu, remove the layers and slice it into bite-sized chunks. Like so.

Tofu bites

Now add your peanut or safflower oil to a wok on pretty high heat (my stove goes from 0 to 10 and I use 8). If you don't have a wok, use a high-sided skillet (not a regular frying pan!). Add enough oil to come about 1/3 of the way up your tofu pieces. Heat the oil first, then add the tofu. You're not technically going to stir-fry it -- this is more like deep-frying. Still, stir your tofu pieces frequently to keep them from sticking to the bottom (but not constantly like you would in a real stir-fry). Make sure they get turned over so they will brown on all sides. Remove from the wok with a slotted spoon when the tofu is crisp and browned (usually about 6 to 8 minutes for me).

Frying tofu

Put the tofu in a bowl, and very carefully pour out some of the oil. You want only 2 tablespoons or so left. Return wok to the burner and add the broccoli and carrots. Stir-fry (stir constantly) for a few minutes. To help your broccoli and carrots along, you can add a few tablespoons of water to the wok -- this will semi-steam them. Be careful not to add too much water -- you want it all to evaporate and not make your sauce watery. When the veggies are just tender, add the mung bean sprouts and return the tofu. Stir fry for one minute, then pour in your sauce and stir everything together for a minute. Pour the whole thing into a bowl, and ta-da! This dish just begs for some plain ol' white rice to go with it and soak up the sauce... yum. Unfortunately, you get no photos of the finished dish, because the household devolved into chaos right about then. Just imagine. It looks purty.

And if you really want to impress yourself, make some scallion pancakes! They are cunningly simple and will make you think you just stumbled into a Chinatown dim sum place -- no kidding, they are that good.

Scallion Pancakes
from Quick & Easy Chinese: 70 Everyday Recipes

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup water
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp or so salt
1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions or scallions

In a smallish bowl, mix together the flour and water.

Flour and water

Stir together with a fork until it comes together as a nice ball of dough. With floured hands, turn out onto a lightly-floured surface and knead for five minutes. Then turn the bowl upside down over the ball and let rest for at least five minutes or until you're ready.

Resting pancake dough

Now, when you're ready to go, cut the dough into thirds, and take one-third at a time (leave the rest under the bowl) and put it on a lightly-floured surface. Roll into a 6- to 8-inch circle. Frankly, it can be any shape because you're going to roll it up -- a square would do just fine. Just some roughly-symmetrical shape. Brush the surface of your shape with a little vegetable oil, sprinkle with a little salt, and scatter one-third of the scallions around.

Ready to roll

Now roll it up like, um, like a crepe? You know what I mean. Roll it up until you have a log. Then take the log and make a spiral until you have a fat little circle.

Fat spiral

Dust with flour and roll this little circle into a big, thinner circle. Roughly 7 inches wide.

Smushed spiral

Heat about 2 Tbsp of oil in a large frying fan over medium-high heat. Fry the pancake for a couple of minutes on each side, until lightly browned and crispy.

Fry 'em up in a pan

Drain on paper towels (or whatever). Repeat twice more for a total of three pancakes. Cut into sections like a pizza and serve immediately -- they are amazing and will make your audience swoon. (Even the picky toddler was gobbling his.)

Head on over to Once Upon a Parent to see what the others are cooking up!


  1. Scallion pancakes are my absolute favorite chinese food appetizer! I am so excited to make these! Thanks Laura!

  2. Okay, yet again your cooking skills amaze me, as does the amount of time you have to devote to cooking. I swear I am lucky to get 45 minutes in the late afternoon, and that is with many interruptions. I am again impressed. This looks so good. Thanks again for joining in. Today was that official last day, although I may try and continue. It is really nice to add variety to our meals.

  3. This looks so good! Yet another wonderful recipe I'll be trying. Thanks for sharing!!

  4. Annie, I've got an upcoming post that includes my tips of cooking with small children underfoot, but -- to give credit where credit is due -- this particular meal was pulled together on a Sunday when my hubby was available to entertain the young'uns. :)