There is a Chinese saying that tofu has the “taste of a hundred things” which is a perfect description for this dish. Even if you aren’t sure about tofu, there are so many other components to it that there is bound to be something in there to delight your taste buds, be it the spicy chilli, the crunchy nut topping or the punchy rhubarb sauce. Speaking of the sauce, it does sound a little unusual but really it’s a natural extension of a long line of sauces that are pleasantly acidic but with a hint of sweet; think tomato, a l’orange, sweet and sour and tagines. It’s definitely worth a try, with that astringent rhubarb flavour tempered by the honey, ginger and chilli.
There was an interesting flurry of comments over on another blog recently about tofu and its health benefits. “But it’s not a real food” said one commenter “there are better things that you could have, tofu is, after all, a processed food”. Well yes, it is processed, but is processing always the bad guy or has this become a bit of a knee jerk reaction? When we’re thinking about our shopping (either for health or environmental reasons) these decisions so often come down to doing what is a little better than what we did last week, not some hypothetical calorie and carbon footprint free ideal – we still have to eat something. I’m convinced that in the grand scheme of things it is better for me and the planet to buy [processed] tofu on a regular basis, and to keep the [unprocessed] pork for a rare treat. Though meat has long been considered to be an unprocessed food, the kept pigs will have emitted copious amounts of climate-ruining nitrous oxide gases at the same time as consuming large quantities of (ironically) processed soya-bean meal, which could have just been turned straight into food.
In terms of health, tofu is not a miracle food (as with everything, it has its good and bad points), but it is undoubtedly a very low fat protein source, and all of that pesky processing imbues most brands with a very health concentration of calcium. A half a block serving of the organic tofu we use contains a whopping 335mg of calcium, around about the same as half a pint of milk. And soy does seem to have total and LDL cholesterol lowering properties, though you do have eat an awful lot of it to reap the benefits – 25g a day, which Jane Clarke reckons adds up to “a 250ml soya drink plus a 75g tofu portion, a 125g soya yoghurt and soya milk in four cups of tea or coffee”. What tofu definitely doesn’t have are the abundant quantities of cholesterol-raising saturated fat that you find in pork belly.
The butchers we bought the pork belly from at Easter is worthy of a mention. Alcock’s Family Butchers in Summertown, Oxford, is a popular place that always has a queue of patient regulars snaking down the street of a Saturday morning. Alcock’s sell meat that is predominantly but not always organic, meat supplied by The Real Meat Company, whose philosophy echoes something I have written about before – that organic is not automatically the best choice for animal welfare or sustainability (though it is a darn site better than most of the alternatives available).
Last year’s rhubarb fetish recipe
Rhubarb and ginger oat thickie
Recipe for Tofu with hot and sour rhubarb sauce
Recipe inspired by Jamie Oliver’s Pork with Hot and Sour rhubarb sauce from Jamie at Home. There are three different sources of chilli in this recipe, so do miss one out if you want to.
The tofu and marinade
1 Tbsp honey (vegans substitute with agave nectar)
1 tsp five spice powder
Quarter tsp dried chilli flakes
1 Tbsp vegetable oil (plus a little extra for cooking)
1 Tbsp rice wine
500g plain firm tofu, cut along the horizontal and then into thin 1 inch strips
400g rhubarb, trimmed and roughly chopped
A big thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled
A red chilli
3 cloves garlic
3 Tbsp honey
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 red chilli, finely sliced
2 Tbsp cashew nuts, roughly chopped
4 spring onions, finely sliced
A small handful fresh coriander
2 limes, halved
Kale, sliced (as much as you can fit in your pan as it will shrink down massively)
A couple of hours before you want to eat, marinade the tofu by mixing all of the marinade ingredients together and pouring the marinade over the tofu. Mix and leave aside in the fridge.
When you are ready to start, begin by getting the rice cooking (you can leave this part until a little later if you are using white rice or noodles).
Put all of the sauce ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth. Pour the resulting puree into a saucepan and simmer for about 20 minutes (the sauce will happily keep warm while everything else falls into place).
Heat a tiny splash of oil in a non-stick pan and sauté the tofu slices until golden. Put aside somewhere warm.
Just before you are ready to serve, use the residual oil in the non-stick pan (add a little more if you need it) to cook the kale until it softens a little and turns a brilliant green. Add the cooked rice to the kale along with a scant few drops of sesame oil.
To serve, dish out the rice/kale mix into warmed bowls, followed by the tofu and topped with a good dollop of the sauce. Finish by sprinkling over the topping ingredients, giving each person half a lime to add to taste.