It started out as a culinary experiment. A desire to try something completely out of my wheelhouse. Something I knew my husband Harvey would not eat. It involved tofu. And peanut sauce. I was sure he’d like the second part. As for eating tofu, he’d rather have his wisdom teeth pulled out through his ears. But I like tofu, so the dish was for me. And, lest you think I’m a selfish cook, let me be clear: this was a lunch experiment. And I knew that Harvey was already taken care of for lunch.
Since I know that online cooks (and their reviewers) never lie (ha!) I took the word of someone who claimed to have the easiest, tastiest recipe for crispy baked tofu with peanut sauce. Optimum word being “easiest.” I have a rule: if a recipe has more than seven ingredients or more than 10 steps, fuggedaboudit. It’s not like I have a day job and a pack of children vying for my attention. But I’ve always questioned the sanity of preparing and cooking for several hours only to have the eating of the meal take 12 minutes. Just doesn’t seem right. So it’s easy or it’s takeout.
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup full fat coconut milk
2 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
2 tbsp maple syrup
2 tsp fresh grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp fresh lime juice (about 1 large lime)
chopped cilantro and chopped peanuts (optional, for serving)
Add all the ingredients to a medium saucepan, turn the heat to medium and stir constantly until smooth and creamy, about five to 10 minutes.
It doesn’t get much simpler than that. You’ll notice I’m not giving you the recipe for the crispy baked tofu. Why? Because it sucked. The recipe I tried called for extra firm tofu and, according to reviews, it was supposed to come out “crispy on the outside and pillowy soft on the inside.” More like tough, rubbery and tasteless. It could have been my bad. I may have cubed it too small and overcooked it. But I’ll never know. Because tofu is not going to be making an appearance in my home again any time soon. Which is not a problem because, as it turns out, the peanut sauce is spectacular on steak, chicken, broccoli and pretty much every other foodstuff. One sauce fits all, so to speak. A sauce for all seasons. Stop me anytime.
On a happier note, I discovered a different Asian recipe that was a big hit with hubby – Asian Quinoa Meatballs. Like tofu, Harvey would rather stick a fork through his hand than eat quinoa, so I had to improvise and use rice instead. But the result was proclaimed “guest-worthy.” I did break my own rule of no more than seven ingredients, but it was worth it.
ASIAN QUINOA MEATBALLS
1 lb ground turkey (we like dark meat since white is too lean)
3/4 cup cooked quinoa (or rice)
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 large egg
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp Sriracha, or more, to taste (optional)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp sesame seeds
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
1 tbsp brown sugar, packed
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp Sriracha, or more, to taste (optional)
1/2 cup water, plus 1 tbsp
2 tsp cornstarch
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, combine ground turkey, quinoa (or rice), garlic, onions, egg, soy sauce, sesame oil, Sriracha (optional), salt and pepper. Using a wooden spoon, stir until well combined. Roll the mixture into 1.25” to 1.5” meatballs, forming about 18-20 meatballs.
- Place meatballs onto the lined cookie sheet and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until all sides are browned and meatballs are cooked through. Turn once during baking.
- To make the sauce, whisk together soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, sugar, sesame oil, Sriracha (optional) and the half cup of water in a small saucepan over medium high heat.
- In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and one tablespoon water. Stir into soy sauce mixture until thickened, about two minutes.
- Serve meatballs immediately with sauce, garnished with green onion and sesame seeds.
The taste is very gingery, so consider yourself forewarned. And, if you have hypertension, know that this recipe probably contains your week’s allotment of sodium. That said, it makes a great dinner over rice. Or even rice vermicelli noodles. Actually, it would be perfect for appetizers – when we get to hold dinner parties again, post-COVID. Plus, it’s just as good the next day. Keep in mind ground turkey is very lean, so be careful not to overcook the meatballs. I always buy dark meat to ensure more moistness. The recipe is a bit more patchkerai (fiddly and complicated) than I normally go for, but when I get a reaction like I did from my husband, that tells me all I need to know.
If all this pandemic stuff is making you a little stir-crazy, put your spare energy to good use and try out some new recipes. Your loved ones will thank you. Or not. Depending on whether there’s tofu or quinoa involved. I once tried to sneak a little quinoa into a salad and Harvey sniffed it out like a bloodhound. That was the last time I tried to deceive him culinarily. Clearly, his “just-put-it-in-my-bowl-and-I’ll-eat-it” claim is a touch weak. But I can’t blame him. Quinoa is an acquired taste (and smell). Maybe if I put some peanut sauce on it?
Shelley Civkin, aka the Accidental Balabusta, is a happily retired librarian and communications officer. For 17 years, she wrote a weekly book review column for the Richmond Review. She’s currently a freelance writer and volunteer.