Tofu with hot and sour rhubarb sauce

by sophie on April 16, 2008 · 34 comments

Post image for Tofu with hot and sour rhubarb sauce
Easter snuck up on us this year and we ended up home alone, providing the perfect opportunity to make a recipe I had been itching to try out for ages: Pork with Hot and Sour rhubarb sauce from Jamie Oliver’s Jamie at Home.  Not your usual Sunday lunch at all.  Jamie’s recipe uses pork belly, a lip-lickingly tasty cut, but not something we would have on an everyday basis.  The rhubarb sauce on the other hand is a thing of beauty and virtually fat free, hence this reworking of Jamie’s dish into a tofu fuelled version that can be pulled together in less than half an hour. 

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

Tofu with hot and sour rhubarb sauce (close up)
This recipe is my entry for weekend herb blogging, hosted this week by Susan from The Well Seasoned Cook

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.  

Serves 4

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
The sauce
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

The topping
1 red chilli, finely sliced
2 Tbsp cashew nuts, roughly chopped
4 spring onions, finely sliced
A small handful fresh coriander
2 limes, halved

The rice
Brown rice
Kale, sliced (as much as you can fit in your pan as it will shrink down massively)
Sesame oil

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.


Foodeater April 16, 2008 at 21:08

Yum… this looks fantastic! I love the combination of flavors with rhubarb… go Jamie Oliver!
Usually the people who complain about tofu not being a real food or being boring/bland simply have never had tofu done right.

cookinpanda April 17, 2008 at 01:12

Sounds great! And who would notice the tofu in there anyway. With all the other exciting ingredients.

kathryn April 17, 2008 at 01:58

I’ve seen that recipe in Jamie’s book, lusted over the rhubarb sauce. But didn’t think to use tofu instead of pork. The tofu fiend in my house will love this idea.
And very sensible stance on tofu and processing. I’m thoroughly convinced of the importance of reducing how much processed food we eat, but it’s also important to be sensible.
It’s not just that a food has been processed which is the problem. It’s that processing so often adds salt, sugar, kilojoules, trans and other fats. Processing can also remove many of the nutritional goodies: fibre, B vitamins and so on. Plus processed foods are often more expensive.
But that’s not true of tofu – it still contains plenty of good nutrition and it’s inexpensive.

Mar April 17, 2008 at 02:33

As soon as there’s good rhubarb at the market, I’ll have to make it. It looks good enough that my dad will like it. (He doesn’t think our tofu compares with the stuff in Japan at all, and I’m not very good with sauces.)

Johanna April 17, 2008 at 09:36

wow that looks great – I bought a bunch of rhubarb on the weekend and have made relish and muffins and still some over and thinking about how to use it – I love fruit in savoury food and have been wondering about idea for savoury rhubarb dishes so love this idea!

Becky April 17, 2008 at 14:04

I adore you site quite the most beautiful food blog around .I am getting rhubarb in the vegebox this weekend , delicious but had never thought of using it in a savory way. My boyfriend loves Pork Belly but just diagnosed high blood pressure ( direct connection I suspect ) . I adore tofu through often cold from the fridge hopefully this will convince him to share my enthusiasm

Dayna April 17, 2008 at 14:28

This looks great. I’ve been meaning to try a rhubarb sauce. That book is inspiring as is this version with tofu.

Sophie April 17, 2008 at 16:54

Foodeater – I’m sure you’re right, I never used to like tofu until I realised that you could brown it and give it a bit of a crispy edge!
Thanks cookinpanda. It’s definitely a good one for distracting from the tofu for folk who aren’t sure about it
Hi Kathryn, glad we’re on the same wavelength as usual. That’s a good point about tofu being so inexpensive. Both the pork belly that I bought at Easter and the tofu I used when I rejigged the recipe were organic, but the tofu was about a quarter of the price of the pork
Mar, how interesting, I had no idea our European tofu wasn’t very authentic. Must get out and travel the world more! If you try it you must let me know if your Dad approves
Johanna – funnily enough I figured that Australia would get rhubarb at the other end of the year but apparently not! I’m really sold on the idea of using rhubarb in savoury dishes now, though I’m still figuring out what to move on to next
Hi Becky – thank you very much for the design compliments! My husband isn’t all that big on the tofu either. He adored the pork belly version, so I was a bit worried that he wouldn’t like this but he loved it. And it’s definitely much more blood pressure friendly :-)
Dayna – Jamie’s book is great and the photography and food styling are just gorgeous

Wendy April 17, 2008 at 22:50

Yet another one of your recipes that has me intrigued yet not convinced! Loved the haggis and tzatziki & am sure you’re right about this too. Plenty of rhubarb in the garden to try it out. :)
Love tofu. Just found a local supplier who makes the most amazing smoked tofu. Fab.

Susan April 18, 2008 at 10:29

I imagine rhubarb works its magic similarly to tamarind, a bit sweet and sharp. It really fits right in w/ all those fabulous Asian flavors. Great photos. Thanks for joining in WHB!

Celine April 18, 2008 at 21:55

oh my, this is what my stomach is craving now. how wonderfully mouth-watering!

Monika April 19, 2008 at 00:44

I never liked rhubarb when I was young, but it strikes me as having such sophisticated flavor now that I’m “older.” I’m definitely saving the recipe for my next batch of rhubarb – thanks for sharing. (And I love your site!)

diva April 19, 2008 at 14:53

i can only think of rhubarb in sweet pies, crumbles, fools. this is just completely out of this world! wow! amazing

Helen April 20, 2008 at 12:45

I used to live in Oxford for 5 years before I moved to London but I never visited that butchers. It’s nice to hear about my old home town though. I absolutely love the sound of this sauce, really interesting. I really realyl want to like tofu and believe me I have tried! I am annoyed with myself for not liking it actually as I know it’s so good for you.

Romina April 20, 2008 at 14:17

Oh my goodness, that dish looks fabulous. I haven’t had rhubarb since I was a child, this has me craving it again. =)

jenny wren April 20, 2008 at 23:00

This sounds (and looks) delicious! I love rhubarb, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen it used in anything but baked goods. I can’t wait to try this.

Sophie April 21, 2008 at 04:15

Hello again fellow Sophie!
First off, I’m so glad to read this is a lowfat and healthy recipe. Ever since I had my gallbladder removed last year, I try to eat lowfat so that I don’t have a bellyache afterward – though sometimes I do give-in. However, I am tempted to make this simply because I’ve been wanting to make more savory, meat-free dishes. The recipe looks beautiful and fresh, the pictures are fantastic. Thanks for sharing :).
Flour Arrangements

tigerfish April 22, 2008 at 06:44

Who says tofu is bland with the kind of marinade, sauce and toppings you are putting in? This is so delicious.

Cassie April 22, 2008 at 08:33

Sophie, that rhubarb sauce… oh my! I love the sound of this and have got it bookmarked to make when the rhubarb is ready from the garden!

Susan from Food Blogga April 22, 2008 at 13:28

What an fabulously tangy sauce to enliven tofu. As a tofu and rhubarb lover, I am already anticipating making this dish. I’m so glad I discovered your blog from Susan’s round-up. It’s really lovely.

Kalyn April 23, 2008 at 04:10

What a beautifully creative combination of flavors in this dish!

Fearless Kitchen April 23, 2008 at 16:04

This looks delicious. My friend has been going through a rhubarb phase (and a kale phase, ironically enough since you have both in your recipe) and was looking for some savory recipes she could use it in. I’m going to point her in this direction, and I’ll almost certainly try making this myself sometime!

Hippolyra April 25, 2008 at 14:39

How lovely. I am eating more and more tofu at the moment and will certainly try this; in fact I made my first tofu from scratch from soy beans last night. (shortly to be blogged about)
The two most useful things to know about tofu is that if needs presing before marinating and if you freeze then defrost it gains a whole new spongy texture.

Elaine E April 25, 2008 at 22:58

I missed this post in my Google Reader when you first published it so I’m late in commenting.
Here’s the comment: mmmmmmmm. And beautiful, too. This is the next tofu recipe I’m going to try. A nice change from tofu stir-fry. Also very seasonal. I expect we should be seeing rhubarb at the Farmers’ Market soon if not already. Thank for sharing this.

kate April 27, 2008 at 19:44

the picture of this gorgeous dish is so absolutely refreshing with that lovely cilantro and red chilli.Yum Yum !

Anna May 11, 2008 at 14:07

That looks so, so good! If only I hadn’t eaten up all my rhubarb yesterday…I’d definately be making this.

[eatingclub] vancouver || js July 31, 2008 at 05:14

I saw Jamie make the rhubarb sauce and it looked fantastic. This dish looks fantastic too! I love the tofu substitution, because it seems more sensible.
Personally, I have always been confused at the “media” attention tofu gets, especially the “celebrity” status that it sometimes has as a “star” foodstuff. Growing up with tofu as a common ingredient, it is what it is, just another ingredient, nothing more, nothing less. We didn’t eat an inordinate amount of it, to the extent of having it every meal or even every day. We eat it, because we like the flavour and texture of it. And it’s the protein available.

Annemarie July 31, 2008 at 21:16

I missed this the first time round – thanks for linking to it again. It sounds l-o-v-e-ly; suppose I just have to wait for next winter to try (not that I’m complaining having to eat my way through the current peas and fruits and summer things).

ttfn300 June 25, 2009 at 12:51

This was really interesting, in a good way :) I really enjoyed it!! thanks for the idea!

dr_igloo March 20, 2010 at 23:08

The rhubarb sauce is what got my attention, though I was dubious about the cilantro (not usually one of my favourite foods). As I was putting it together I became more and more unsure about it…but was it ever FANTASTIC. Easily the best new recipe I’ve tried in many months. I’m going to start keeping rhubarb in my freezer for the primary purpose of making this dish!

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