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Flash fried couscous with veges and smoky extra firm tofu

August 23, 2010

Ahhh, couscous. How I love thee. Especially when an essay deadline looms near, or any deadline for that matter. You may be a fast food, but I can convince myself of your healthful properties. You go with anything, sweet or savoury, and the pan I cook you in isn’t a nightmare to clean. I can drown you in seasonings or saucy goodness or leave you relatively naked. Best of all? You’re easier to make than two minute noodles, and just as fast. What more could a lazy, hungry person ask for?!

Sidenote: apologies for the c-r-a-p photo. I was literally in the middle of my meal, realised it was a hell of a lot tastier than I thought it would be, and whipped out the camera for a 30-second shot. Then I promptly returned to stuffing my face. Soz. It did look a lot prettier…where has all the green gone?!

This was surprisingly good – I had made some so-so cous cous (this is what happens when you have ten minutes to spare) for the potluck club and was still feeling slightly huffy about it (welcome to my life), so this really brought back the allure of cous cous. A friend of mine recently noted that cous cous could be a little dangerous in all its convenience, and now I know why. However, I think my deep seated desire for roast potatoes will prevent me from overdosing on cous cous as a carb source. For those of you who don’t have the patience to wait around an hour for your potatoes to crispen up, this may become a staple. Not this specific combination necessarily, but the concept: stir fried veges, something protein-y, and cous cous. I did use three pans however…which may be a luxury for some flatters I understand, but you can probably get away with two if you’re willing to sacrifice a few more minutes. It’ll really only work with meat though, which you could throw in the pan with the veges I guess but you do run the risk of burning the sauce, which doesn’t need as long as the veges.

Apart from the “fried rice but not” concept, I have something new for you: how to cook extra-firm tofu so that it tastes good, and is quite versatile. When I say extra firm, I mean you should be able to pinch it in the middle quite hard and it won’t smush – if you pinch hard enough it’ll break apart cleanly(ish). It’s the firmness of calamari, or soft chewy candy that’s been sitting in the cold. This stuff is far easier to use for several reasons. First, there’s none of this “pressing” with tea towels nonsense. Second, it doesn’t break apart easily in the pan and look like someone has thrown up a little ricotta in your stir fry, unless you stab it with a metal spatula like a lunatic. Third, it has a more substantial texture, so it’s a little different to your average tofu experience in that you actually get to chew it before it disintegrates in your mouth. Most importantly though, if you cook it right, you can’t taste the beany-ness of it at all. Which is pretty damn awesome if you eat a lot of tofu or drink soymilk, beacuse after a while things can get a little too beany. I’ve given a separate recipe at the bottom for this, as you can use it in fried rice or noodles or anything stir-fried. So where do you get the stuff? Your best bet is an Asian supermarket – actual supermarkets, aside from being expensive, usually don’t carry the kind I’m referring to. The tofu will be in the fridge, and is usually vacuum packed and cut into flat squares. Mine is made by “tofu man” but that’s just in Christchurch as far as I know. In any case, it can’t hurt to look for it – it’s in most Asian supermarkets in Christchurch.

Flash fried cous cous

serves two (as a pretty light meal…good excuse for ice cream after dinner, yes?)

  • 1/2c instant (most will be) couscous (preferably wholemeal if you’re eating regularly)
  • 1/2c just boiled water
  • 3-4c vegetables*, chopped into bite sized pieces – I used cauliflower florets, ripped purple kurly kale and carrots cut into matchsticks.
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, chopped sort of finely
  • 4 strands spring onion (green part only), finely chopped
  • plenty of salt and pepper
  • 1/4c cooking oil
  • light soy sauce  or teriyaki sauce (about 2Tbs if you don’t like a strong soy sauce flavour, 4Tbs if you like a lot of salt like me) – omit if using tofu recipe below
  • cooked tofu (recipe below) or something else proteiny (fresh roasted cashews wouldn’t go amiss**). If using meat, cook it in the same way as the tofu recipe specified below.

*If you want a comprehensive rant about cooking vegetables so they taste, well, good, then check out my guide. If you want to make this look pretty, then use a variety of colours, and make sure there’s something green in there.

**To roast cashews evenly, pop them on a single layer on a baking tray, then place in an oven and turn heat to 200C. Let sit in the middle of the oven at least 10 minutes from cold.

Put water on to boil. Heat cooking oil in a large, deep frypan on medium high heat. Add veges (even while oil is cold) with a pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Cover. Meanwhile, put couscous in a small saucepan (it almost triples in volume, so keep that in mind if you’re doubling the recipe).

Once vegetables start hissing and steaming angrily, uncover and shake the pan vigorously. The shaking should reveal brown splotches on your veges where they have been seared by the high heat. These will be yumness to the max. Add a splash of water, and immediately cover again. Your water should have boiled by now. Sprinkle a pinch of salt and some pepper over the cous cous and pour in the correct amount of just boiled water, then immediately cover the cous cous, and set a timer for 5 minutes. Place pan on an element and turn heat to the lowest possible setting. If using gas or high heat elements, turn on heat for only a minute.

Uncover your veges, reduce heat to low, and add a splash of light soy sauce (or, if using the tofu method below, drain the soy sauce from the steamed tofu into the pan). Immediately stir around, add garlic, and re-cover. Once the cous cous is done, uncover the saucepan and the vegetables pan and scrape the cous cous into the vegetables. Add cooked protein of choice (if no longer hot, cook a further minute to reheat). Add spring onion. Stir, taste and adjust seasonings (add more salt and pepper if you feel the need), then serve.

Smoky soy sauce/teriyaki*extra firm tofu or meat

Recommended amounts for the above recipe: about 1 c thinly sliced extra firm tofu (read 4th paragraph to ensure you’re using the kind I mean), into triangles. When I say thin I mean about 2-3mm – this will ensure maximum flavour and minimum soy-ishness. It doesn’t have to be perfect though, so don’t get out a ruler or anything. If using meat, I’d keep it under 1 packed cup of raw meat, cut no thicker than 1.5cm. Remember to cut across the grain, (or muscle lines) not along, for maximum tenderness.

Start heating the pan for the proteins first, although you don’t have to have them fully done before you start the veges. Heat a little cooking oil on medium low heat in a frying pan large enough to fit your proteins on more or less a single layer. While waiting for the pan to heat up the oil, pour about 3-4Tbs LIGHT soy sauce or teriyaki sauce over your chopped protein (in a bowl or even better, a plastic bag). Basically you’re trying to marinate it quickly before you’re cooking it. There’s a lot of stuff about marinating overnight, but really, it’s not required for this. Once oil is hot (test by flicking some water into the pan – it should hiss), arrange your proteins on a single layer, pour over sauce, and cover immediately. Let steam about 5 minutes. Then, tilting the lid slightly but not enough to let the proteins escape, drain the liquids in the pan out over your vegetables that are cooking, by tilting your pan whilst holding the tilted cover on. Place proteins pan back on heat, uncover, turn heat up a notch, and let the proteins brown a little on one side and let any leftover liquids evaporate off. By this time your veges should be cooked, so you can add your proteins in with them and the cous cous or rice/noodles if you’re doing that.

By steaming the tofu first, then draining off the excess sauce and letting it sear just very briefly, you prevent the extra-firm tofu going too leathery and dry, and you prevent the sauce burning. Also if using the meat juices that cook out into the excess sauce, you create greatness for your veges.

As you can see, the whole thing is incredibly versatile. Let me know if you have any favourite combinations!!

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