Often served in proportions similar to the main dish, once concocted, this side has remained a “go to” side for us; almost a food group in its own right. It is much, much more some cubed up tofu smothered with a sauce. I think what makes this dish remarkable is the complex interlacing of the flavors and textures, the creamy freshness of the tofu, the astringent bite and heat of the chili oil, the saltiness and bitter edge of miso and walnuts, and the earthiness of the mushrooms. Hit this with some crunchy scallions and some peanuts to complete the effect. There is a lot going on here and, as a result, this conspiracy of goodness ends up being entirely satisfying and extremely filling. Hats off to Mrs. Fuji, author of The Enlightened Kitchen: Fresh Vegetable Dishes from the Temples of Japan, as her work formed the base idea for the mushroom sauce used here.
For this lunch, we grilled some chicken teriyaki, pan seared some pak choi, bell peppers, and garlic with a small amount of oyster sauce, and steamed some rice. Not much to see there and the longest cooking item was the rice. Feel sort of sad not having a soup with this, but there is no way we would have enjoyed it. This ended up being a devastatingly filling 450 to 500 calorie meal and neither of us was able to finish the 4 ounces of chicken that I plated.
Preparation of this side is relatively easy. Coarsely chop the carrots and the poblano chili, finely chop the mushrooms, and pan fry them with sesame oil in wide and flat skillet over sufficient heat to cook off quite a bit of the moisture. With this dish, it is really important to cook it hot enough to get rid of excess moisture before adding the miso mixture. If you use too low of heat, the mushrooms will release moisture and completely hose things up. Basically, you will have a nasty, slimy deal that you will not be able to fix. Add the miso-sake mixture and continue cooking on medium high to burn off more moisture (and combine some flavors..this is where the magic happens). When it gets to a chunky, paste-like consistency, add the walnuts, stir and get it off the heat to cool. Get it on a heat sink if you have one.
To assemble the dish, plate out about 2 to 4 ounces of cubed tofu in a pile. Drizzle with chili oil and cover with the mushroom sauce. Top with scallions, peanuts, soy nuts, whatever. As a side note, the quality of chili oil really makes a big difference on this dish. Brinn and I make our own, which is easy to do. I won’t cover it here, since this is already getting long, but making our own allows us the latitude to get the specific chili flavor we want and also add accents of ginger and Sichuan peppercorn.
- 2 to 4 oz pressed firm tofu per plate, cut into bite-sized cubes
- 7 oz cremini mushrooms, finely chopped
- 1 oz poblano chili, coarsely chopped
- 1 to 2 oz carrots, coarsely chopped
- 2 Tbs red miso
- 4 Tbs sake
- 2 Tbs sugar
- 2 Tbs ground walnuts
- 2 to 3 Tbs sesame oil for cooking
- Chili oil to serve
- Combine miso, sake, and sugar into paste; set aside.
- In a broad skillet, saute mushrooms, poblano chili, and carrots over medium high to high heat with sesame oil for 3 to 4 minutes to remove moisture.
- Add miso mixture and cook on medium high to high until mixture resembles a chunky paste, about 3 to 5 minutes.
- Add crushed walnuts, stir and remove from heat to cool.
- To serve, plate 2 to 4 oz per person and drizzle with chili oil. Spoon mushroom mixture over tofu. Garnish with scallions and peanuts or soy nuts.