Tofu with peanut sauce

A while back we were at a dinner where Kyle was discussing ‘going green’ with a woman at our table. She was explaining all the measures her family takes to reduce their carbon footprint: driving less, reusing and recycling, not flying as much, etc. Kyle said, “The thing that’s hardest for us is eating less meat.” She wasn’t sure what he meant (as she continued eating the delicious steak we were served) so he mentioned about how in this NY Times article, Mark Bittman explains how global meat production actually produces more carbon than transportation. (Nothing like factoids from the NY Times to ruin a juicy steak!) She was really disheartened to hear this, just as I was when I read about it. Somehow, with all the talk about reducing carbon footprints, this aspect just doesn’t get mentioned so much — I think because it is a difficult idea to face.

I too find not eating meat to be a difficult idea. However, we’ve been working for a while on trying to reduce our consumption of meat for health and financial reasons anyway. I remember a few years back when Kyle was doing his internship, we were trying to save cash, so we cooked a lot and got our meat fix by flavoring the veggies and beans with bacon. (A little bit of bacon goes a long way, believe me.) For the New Year, I am trying to follow Mark Bittman’s tenet about treating meat like a side dish: flavor the other stuff with meat, just like we did back then with the bacon (After all, bacon is meat candy, as my friend Ryan says, and even Rick Bayless wore one of those shirts on his show!)

The following is one of my fave dishes — I’ve been making this for years, and when I bust out the block of tofu, the kids actually get excited for dinner (They don’t understand tofu’s bad rep because this and hotpot are the only ways they eat it). The key is to make sure and get the extra firm tofu (sometimes called ‘Chinese-style’). Don’t even think about making this with softer tofu — it’ll just absorb all the oil and taste gross.

One interesting takeaway from all the handwringing is that reducing one’s meat consumption by just 20 percent is like switching from a regular sedan (such as a Camry) to a fuel efficient Prius. If I take this into account on a weekly basis, I can eat that barbeque pork later — just not every day.

Tofu with peanut sauce
serves 4

1 pound (500g) of extra-firm tofu
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 scallion, minced, white part separated from the green part
1/4 cup sesame or peanut oil
For the peanut sauce:
1/2 cup boilng water
3 tablespoons natural peanut butter
2 teaspoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar

  1. For the sauce: combine the peanut butter, fish sauce, soy sauce, rice vinegar and sugar. Pour the hot water over it, whisking with a fork. It’ll take a little time for it to come together, but continue whisking until smooth. Taste for salt. Set aside.
  2. Pour the liquid off the tofu and press slightly to remove as much of the liquid as possible. Cut into 3/4-inch thick slabs. Blot with a paper towel to dry the tofu.
  3. Heat the oil over high in a large nonstick wok or skillet (you will need to be careful — the tofu will splatter, so if you have a screen you can set over the skillet, have it ready).
  4. Slide the tofu pieces into the oil and let it fry, undisturbed for 3-5 minutes, or until golden. Flip over and brown on the other side. Set on a paper towel.
  5. Pour off all but a couple tablespoons of the oil from the skillet. Add the whites of the scallions and garlic and swirl around. Add the tofu back in and toss. Pour in the peanut sauce and toss the tofu to coat in the sauce. The sauce will thicken really fast, so do this quickly.
  6. Pour the mixture into a serving dish and serve with white rice.

NYTimes: Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler
NYTimes: Putting meat back in its place
NYTimes: As more eat meat, a bid to cut emissions