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January 23, 2004

Small-Time Cooks

Tofu. Last year the word hit me and felt like cheap whiskey going down. The first time I tried tofu, it was limp like a soggy overcoat and tasted just as bad. But over the last year, I've had food that made me think otherwise. Maria and I had some great stuff at this vegetarian diner on the north side.

The best thing about tofu is that it can soak up flavor, so tofu dishes can pack a punch like a .44 Magnum. Maria and I decided to try our hand at it, so we marinated some mushrooms and tried to put a lot of flavor into the tofu. Maria loves Brussels sprouts, and she made some with leeks and lemon. I'm not usually a fan, but I liked the brussel sprouts this time.

These dishes serve two.

Mushroom Marinade with Tofu

1/2 block of firm tofu

8-10 white mushrooms, washed, stemmed, and skinned

1/4 cup sliced green onions

sherry cooking wine

sesame oil

olive oil

white or black pepper

1 cup vegetable broth

3 shiitake mushrooms, washed, stemmed, and sliced

brown rice

In a small pot, set the vegetable broth to boil with the sliced shiitake mushrooms. Leave it simmering the whole time you are cooking this dish. Begin cooking the brown rice in another pot. Cube the tofu into small, bite-sized chunks, and make sure the green onions are cleaned well. To skin the white mushrooms, take your thumb and press firmly against the mushroom towards the top to peel off the outer skin. Place the white mushrooms in a bowl, and add about a quarter cup of sherry cooking wine and about 2 Tablespoons each of sesame oil and olive oil. Sprinkle some ground white pepper over the top if you have it; otherwise, black pepper is fine (white pepper is much milder and often much more expensive than black pepper—they come from the same plant but are picked at different times). Stir the mushrooms and marinade together until well mixed. Let them sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the marinade, and slice twice (slice once, then turn them 90 degrees and slice again). Heat some olive oil in a frying pan. When it is hot, add the cubed tofu. Cook the tofu by itself for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to get all sides golden brown. If all the oil soaks up, add some vegetable broth from the simmering pot. Once the tofu is a little crispy, add the mushrooms and sauté with some of the vegetable broth for a few minutes. Add the green onions and cook, adding more vegetable broth if needed. Serve hot over the rice, and pour some broth over the dish.

Brussels Sprouts and Leeks with Lemon and Pepper

8-10 fresh, green Brussels sprouts

1 leek, rinsed

1 lemon

black pepper

salt

margarine or butter

Wash and quarter the Brussels sprouts, and rinse the leeks well. (Leeks look similar to large green onions, but are milder and tasty.) Add the quartered brussel sprouts to a pot with some water and a dash of salt. Cover the pot and steam the brussel sprouts until they are supple, but do not let them get a brown tinge. Slice the leeks into strips (not rings) by cutting down the leek, not across it. Once the Brussels sprouts are cooked, drain them, and sauté them with the leeks in some butter or margarine. After a couple of minutes, add a dash of salt and some pepper to the sprouts. Cook gently for another couple of minutes. Squirt some lemon juice over the vegetables and serve.

The Jclub is holding an Iron Chef competition this Saturday at 8 in the Cloister Club at Ida Noyes. Jon Walsh and Diane Dickel will be emceeing and judging.