Savory Tofu Sundae? Don't Laugh: It's Amazing

There's also skillet cannelloni and lemongrass burgers for this week's dinner

Thanks for visiting The Bittman Project, a place where food is everything (or pretty close).


It’s inevitable: Some days you haven’t planned anything to cook, the afternoon sneaks up on you, and all you can do is throw your hands up and say, “Gahhhh! What’s for dinner?” For those times when you need something fast, easy, and tasty, we’ve got you covered. Here are a few recipes to help you navigate this week.

Stir-Fry Sundae

Makes: 2 Servings
Time: 20 minutes, including vegetable prep

You know how silken tofu has that custardy texture? Moreso if you steam it. Top a couple of scoops with a fresh and spicy vegetable stir-fry and suddenly you're eating a rich and savory "sundae”, without an animal product in sight.

Silken tofu is available in a few different ways: freshly made at some Asian supermarkets or restaurants, commercially packaged in a teeny bit of water and refrigerated, or sealed in cartons on the supermarket shelf. It can also be identified as firm or soft and the weight can vary depending on how much water is in the brick. The shelf-stable kind is less interesting and a tad gelatinous and dense, so go for the fluffier fresh or refrigerated kinds if you can find 'em. To veer this dish into banana split territory, add a scoop of brown rice in the bowl.

Ingredients

  • 12 to 16 ounces silken tofu (see the headnote)

  • Salt

  • 2 or 3 scallions

  • 1 tablespoon good-quality vegetable oil (I used sunflower)

  • 2-inch knob ginger, peeled and chopped

  • 3 or 4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced

  • 10 ounces any greens (I used a mix of mustards)

  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce, plus more to taste

  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil

  • Black pepper

  • Hot sauce or chili crisp and lemon wedges for serving

Instructions

1. Put the tofu in a covered microwave-safe container, carefully removing it from the package in one or two pieces if possible. (Or use an electric or stovetop steamer.) Sprinkle generously with salt and steam until the tofu puffs and is super hot, about 5 minutes in the microwave on high (or five minutes after the water boils in a steamer). Let the tofu sit, covered, until you pull together the stir-fry.

2. While the tofu steams, slice the scallions, keeping the white and green parts separate. Put the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the white scallion slices (no need to let the oil fully heat). Peel and chop the ginger, drop it in the pan, and give a stir. Peel and slice the garlic and stir it into the now sizzling oil, too. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, brown in places, and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, rinse and chop the greens.

3. When the aromatics are ready, turn the heat to high and pour 1/2 cup water into the skillet. Immediately start adding the greens, stirring to soften them, and make room in the pan. Sprinkle with a little salt and continue cooking and stirring until greens are tender but still brightly colored and the water is almost evaporated, just a couple minutes. Add the soy sauce and sesame oil and lots of black pepper; taste and adjust the seasoning.

4. To serve, use a slotted spoon to scoop ice-cream-like mounds of the tofu into bowls, leaving behind as much water as possible. Top with the stir-fry and pan juices. Splatter on some hot sauce or chile crisp, drizzle with more soy sauce, and squeeze lemon juice over all.

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Skillet Cannelloni

Makes: 2 servings
Time: 30 minutes

With one little shortcut — packaged egg roll wrappers — you can have homemade marinara and ricotta-filled cannelloni in a half an hour. There are even enough gaps in the action to pull together steamed vegetables to eat on the side. I downsized the recipe to two servings but it's easy to double it and make it a family supper.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic

  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano or Italian seasoning blend

  • 1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes, or to taste

  • One 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes

  • Salt and pepper

  • 1 egg

  • 1 cup ricotta cheese

  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (about 2 ounces), plus more for serving

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

  • 8 egg roll wrappers

Instructions

1. Put the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the garlic, oregano or Italian seasoning blend, and red chile flakes. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, less than a minute. Add the tomatoes and 1/2 cup water and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bring the sauce to a boil, then adjust the heat so that it bubbles gently but steadily while you assemble the pasta.

2. Beat the egg in a bowl with some salt and pepper; stir in the ricotta, parmesan, and nutmeg. Stack 2 egg roll wrappers on top of each other and about 1/4 cup filling along one of the edges; roll. Repeat with the remaining wrappers to make 4 cannelloni total.

3. Carefully put the rolls in the sauce seam side down. Bring the sauce back to a boil, then adjust the heat so it bubbles gently and cover the pan. Cook, undisturbed, until the wrappers are tender and the filling is heated through, about 5 minutes. Keep the skillet covered and remove it from the heat for 3 to 5 minutes so the cannelloni can set. Then serve with the sauce, passing more parmesan at the table.

— Recipe Adapted from Dinner for Everyone

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Lemongrass Burgers

Makes 4 Servings
Time: About 30 minutes

These hamburgers are from one of Mark's favorite books, The Best Recipes in the World. I recently made them with ground chicken, which were spectacular. His point from the original is a clue: Of all the powerful ingredients in these burgers — lemongrass, shallots, garlic, chile, and fish sauce, none survives the cooking as well as the lemongrass, whose distinctive scent and flavor override all the others, reducing them to bit players.

Ground pork or beef, or shrimp pulsed in the processor are all solid alternatives. And serving these burgers on buns is a natural. You can also turn them into smaller patties or balls to grill, roast, or pan fry. I seared them in a large skillet and then used the drippings to quickly stir-fry some bean sprouts, scallions, and cooked brown rice noodles for a landing pad on the plate. Cilantro and lime. — bonuses. Splatters of ketchup and hot sauce may have looked like overkill, but you won't be sorry. I wished for a dab of mayo, though.

Ingredients

  • 2 lemongrass stalks, trimmed

  • 1 shallot or half a small red onion

  • 2 garlic cloves

  • Minced fresh red chile or crushed red pepper flakes to taste

  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce

  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

  • 1 pound ground pork or chicken

  • Salt and black pepper

  • 2 tablespoons good-quality vegetable oil

  • Cilantro sprigs, lime wedges, ketchup, and hot sauce for serving

Instructions

1. Trim the tough ends from the lemongrass and slit the stalks lengthwise to easily peel off the fibrous outer layers. Mince the tender core of both; you should have about 2 tablespoons. Trim, peel, and mince the shallot or onion and garlic; you should have a generous tablespoon of each. Put all the aromatics in a medium bowl with the chile, fish sauce, sugar, salt, and pepper. Stir and mash with a fork for a bit until everything is fragrant.

2. Add the chicken to the bowl and stir gently with the fork (or your hands) to incorporate the seasonings without overworking the meat. Divide and shape the mixture into four balls.

3. Put the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it's hot, flatten a ball between your palms to about 1/2 inch thick and put it in the pan. Repeat with the remaining balls. Let the burgers cook undisturbed, until they brown on the bottom and release easily. Lower the heat to medium-low and turn the burgers. Cook, turning once or twice more until they're charred in places and no longer pink at the center, 5 to 10 minutes. Serve as sandwiches or in grain bowls, or on a bed of vegetables and noodles, with cilantro, lime, ketchup, and hot sauce.

— Recipe adapted from The Best Recipes in the World

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