[MUSIC PLAYING] BETH MCKINNEY: Hey, my name is Beth McKinney. Welcome to Stir Fry Basics. And the recipe that we are making now is ma po tofu.
Ma po tofu is originally actually a meat recipe with pork in it. But this is a vegetarian version. So that if you've never had tofu, if you want to try tofu, this one is extremely flavorful and really easy to make.
So I'm going to start by talking to you a little bit about tofu. And the tofu that I bought today is extra firm tofu. I recommend extra firm, just because it has much better structural integrity.
You will see if you do watch TV shows that often you're told to kind of press the water out of the tofu. Which is what I did on this side. And you'll see what I did is I just cut the chunk of tofu into three.
But you know what, if you don't want to, you don't have to. Here I just put the whole chunk on a paper towel and I got some of the water out. And to be quite honest with you, sometimes when I'm at home I don't do it at all. So when you get the water out of the tofu, essentially what happens is you have more opportunity to absorb the flavors.
So you'll see that extra firm tofu has a really good structure. And it's really easy to cut. And we're simply cutting it into chunks. And when you marinate the tofu it absorbs pretty quickly. You don't need to marinate it as you would a meat. OK, so I'm going to mix this up and I am going to invite some of the people who need a seat to please come on in.
Actually this is tofu. And in the recipe it calls for a little bit less tofu than this, but I want everyone to be able to have a taste. And so what you'll notice is that the ingredients that I'm using might not be exactly the amount. Because these recipes are incredibly flexible.
And in fact, this might be way too much tofu. So I'll probably just use a part of a block, because it does say one pound of tofu. And of course, this was 12 ounces, because that's what they do to you.
OK so this soy sauce is just going to marinate the tofu, give it a little bit of flavor in addition to all the other flavors that we are adding. Let me talk to you about soy sauce. If you use soy sauce, I have a recommendation. And that is buy a giant soy sauce.
This will be for $4.00 or $5.00. And it works out to be a lot less expensive. So I keep a tiny little soy sauce container and I continue to fill it up with a funnel. So yes. OK, so that's actually the brand that I use and I highly recommend that.
OK so we've got our tofu marinating. And the next thing that we're going to do is I'm actually going to cut up all the vegetables. Here's the thing about stir frying and Chinese food. The hardest part is having the ingredients in your house, honestly. The second hardest part is chopping them. The cooking piece is really easy.
And so I want to show you a way to cut pepper that I learned from my colleague Erin Harner just this year. And I never actually knew about that. But if you cut the top and the bottom off of a pepper and then open it up, it just makes it really easy, really easy to get everything out.
Anyway, so we're going to cut up this pepper and some mushrooms. Compost. And just get all the ingredients ready.
Here's another tip that I want to give everybody, which is this is a French knife. And I always use a French knife. It is great for cutting and chopping.
And the other knife that I use is a paring knife when I have to do really small things. But there is a way, a recommended way to hold one of these knives. And I show people every single time, which will give you amazing control.
So you actually grab the knife with your fingers. You want to be holding the metal. And with your three back fingers you grab the handle. And this gives you way more control than holding it further back on the knife.
The other thing that I recommend is that you keep your cutting board as close to you as possible, because you have more leverage rather than having it far away.
In terms of how big to cut your vegetables, this is absolute personal preference. There are guidelines in the recipes. It'll say 1/2 inch dice or 3/4 inch dice. Essentially, what I try and do is keep everything about the same size so that it all cooks about the same time. And that's the pepper.
The leek-- and you could either use a leek or you could use scallions or green onions. And I picked the leek today just to be different. People who might be joining a CSA might be getting some vegetables that they're not quite sure what to do with. And while leeks are really good for soup, there's just so much soup you can make. And so there are a lot of ways to cook leeks. And you can certainly just saute them. They're great in a stir fry.
This is going into my freezer for soup stock. Well, that's where it would go normally. Today it's going in the compost.
So you want to use everything except the dark green. So the light green is OK. And with a leek-- this is where the knife skills come in. I always cut it and wash it because a lot of times you'll get dirt in here. I'm not seeing any dirt in here, but I'm going to give a rinse anyway. Sometimes you need to get your thumb in there and actually scrape the dirt out.
So if you look at the recipe, you will notice that it says long, thin strips. So this is up to your discretion. But they're not going to be little rings. We're going to actually cut it very thinly into these matchsticks shape as best you can.
And then once you've got that, you can decide how long you want to make them. And I'm kind of matching them up with the peppers. OK. And so that's the leek. We've got that pretty well, OK.
And then the last one is the mushrooms. Has anyone ever cut a mushroom with an egg slicer? It can be done. It can be done, but sometimes it takes the same amount of time. So I will just let you know it's kind of fun.
But once again, I'm using more mushrooms than the recipe calls for because I got more mushrooms than the recipe calls for. And I'm just showing you my crazy method.
I like to cut on a flat surface, which is why I cut-- I mean, I like to cut vegetables when they have a flat surface. Otherwise they might roll away. So I always cut my mushrooms in half so that I've got a flat surface. And then I'm just not going to worry too much about them. OK. Oops, I have more to cut.
So the key when you're making a stir fry is to have not only everything lined up but to have it lined up in the order that it's going into the wok. That is going to save you a little bit of headache and a lot of risk for burning your food.
So these are vegetables that we're going to be using. And the next thing I want to do is show you, let's see, the little black bean mixture.
These are fermented black beans. And I'm going to invite you to pass this around. Fermented black beans come in a bag that's about twice the size of this. And they last forever. So take a whiff. They're very salty.
And they're very powerful. You don't need a lot. This whole dish that's going to feed all of us has half a tablespoon of black beans in it. And so what you're going to do with these is you're going to mash them.
So my Chinese cooking teacher, whose name was Norman, Norman Weinstein, look him up, he's famous. He's been on the Food Network.
He said do it with the back of your cleaver. We used cleavers in Chinese cooking class. And so see, it just, it mashes right up.
SPEAKER 1: Do you find these at the Asian stores?
BETH MCKINNEY: Yes, either Ling--
SPEAKER 2: Win Li?
BETH MCKINNEY: Thank you. Win Li or Ithaca Tofu. OK, and so the black beans, and this is chili paste with garlic, something else that you can buy that is going to last a long time. And so it says a tablespoon. This is going to be a little bit spicy. I might put in a little less than a tablespoon. OK, I'll put in that much. And then 1/4 a cup of water.
And so this is going to be a major player in the flavor of what we've got going on here. You are more than welcome, Gabriel, if you want to pass this around to smell it. Because I want you to know what all these ingredients are.
OK, so we've got vegetables. We've got the sauce. And let's see, we need garlic and ginger. Almost every recipe is going to use garlic and ginger. And so let me do my quick how to cut garlic demonstration. So I took a whole head of garlic and I broke it up into cloves of garlic. Thank you.
OK, so these are all the cloves of garlic and some of these are pretty small, I think too small. You can use as much or as little garlic as you want when you are cooking. If you've got a fresh head of garlic, it's going to be really easy to peel and I'll show you how I do it. You can use a garlic press if you want, but this is much more authentic.
I cut the tip off that was connected to the head. Get rid of that. Then I give the garlic a tap to break the peel. And then when you grab the tail it should come right out.
And then to chop your garlic, without shooting it off into a million directions, you put your knife over the top and essentially give it a really big smash. And that's going to make it really easy to cut. And then you can do whatever you want.
Garlic is amorphous. It will cut in any direction. And it's much friendlier than say, ginger.
So ginger is the other one. So ginger has fibers going through it. And when you buy ginger, first of all, often you want to buy fresh ginger. And often you don't need that amount of ginger that's for sale. It's this gigantic piece. And so I always-- learned this from Norman-- I always break off a piece of ginger that I'm going to buy, because I certainly don't need all of it. And it makes a sound, like that. It makes a snap. If it's bendy, just don't do it.
And then once you have your ginger and you are going to want to cut it, keep in mind that it's got these strings, they're fibrous, that go right through it. It's not going to do the garlic thing. So you have to be a little bit more aggressive with your ginger.
On the other hand, you could use a ginger grater. And that is something that is a one use device. And you can buy them and just grate your ginger. Or you could probably use a grater. But the ginger grater is a one use device.
So the real way to do it is to cut off the outside. Traditional Chinese cooking they use a chopstick to scrape it off. But we are just going to cut it off. And then you're going to cut this ginger right along with the grain. So in the same direction as the fibers.
And then what you'll do is you will stack them up. And once again, you're going to cut with the grain into little tiny matchsticks. The thinner the better. Because nobody wants a huge piece of ginger.
Now I'm going to give you a life hack. If you go to your local grocery store. Not all of them have this, but most of them do. And you look in the section where they have the packaged herbs in the little plastic containers, next to them they will have a squeeze tube of ginger.
It's perfect. It works out, it lasts a very long time, and you can just squeeze some ginger right in there. I tried to buy it today to show you, but they were out of it. Because probably people know about this life hack. And that's how you cut ginger.
So here's what we're going to do. We're going to look at the recipe and we're about to start cooking, which means what's going to happen is we are going to turn the wok on.
This is an electric stove. So if you have an electric stove, just know that it is absolutely possible to stir fry. Every now and then it even works better. So I've never had a trouble with this.
And then we are going to line everything up. So from the part of the recipe where it says heat wok and add or oil. The first thing that goes in is the tofu, which we have ready. The next thing we have is the garlic and ginger, which I might have to cut a little bit more. Then we have the black bean mixture.
And then I've already made this. At the end, if you are trying to thicken up a liquid, there's often a cornstarch mixture. Sometimes it's cornstarch and soy sauce. And sometimes it's just cornstarch and water.
So here it's cornstarch and soy sauce. Give it a little mix. And what you're going for when you're thickening things up in Chinese cooking is you want to be in that questionable period where you're saying to yourself is this thick or is this not thick?
So you know what gravy is like. Gravy, when you've got gravy, it's too thick. That is not what you're going for. You're going for something that's kind of halfway between liquid and a little bit thicker.
And there's also quite a bit of wiggle room. So if you mess up, you know what, it's going to taste delicious. You can always add a little more water or liquid.
So for the recipes today I'm using one wok. But then for other recipes I'm using a frying pan. So it doesn't matter. You don't absolutely need a wok for this.
SPEAKER 3: Beth?
BETH MCKINNEY: Yes.
SPEAKER 3: Do you have any choice on that oil that you use? Any recommendations?
BETH MCKINNEY: I recommend any vegetable oil that you like. And I would say not olive oil, because that is quite flavorful. And it's more of an Italian flavor.
In Chinese restaurants, peanut oil is typically used. And that's because it has a high smoke point. It'll get really hot and they have a lot more BTUs of fire. And so you could use peanut oil, but any oil works. Any oil should be good in a house.
So this is pretty hot. And it's actually starting to burn a little bit. So you do want to keep it on high heat, because that's what stir frying is all about. And so we are going to stir fry, and I've got it back on high heat. Until it's brown.
Yes, we want it to be a little bit hotter than that. We want to be hearing it. OK, and then we're going to check on getting some more garlic while this cooks.
So as I cut the garlic I want to tell you about one of the main ingredients of ma po tofu. And it's the Sichuan peppercorns. And the Sichuan peppercorns are going to go in at the end.
Actually I ground them in a coffee grinder that's just for spices though. These peppercorns are very different. They're very powerful. And so this is-- you can look at these. I'll pass them both around. So these are the peppercorns. You can mash them with the back of a knife. You can use a mortar and pestle. You can use a coffee grinder.
So I want you to get a whiff of these because these really flavor the dish. Oh, would you like to smell that?
SPEAKER 4: No, I'm good But I do have a question.
BETH MCKINNEY: Yes, a question.
SPEAKER 4: How do you manage to stir fry to tofu while maintaining the structural integrity of the tofu?
BETH MCKINNEY: OK, the question is, how do I stir fry tofu while maintaining the structural integrity. And sometimes it's hard. So I always try and buy extra firm. Extra firm will be the best. However, depending on the brand it may or may not be a firm all the time. And so sometimes it will come apart a little bit. And you know, that's just the way it is. It's still going to be good to eat. But yeah, you might want to check out the brand that you're using.
SPEAKER 5: Beth?
BETH MCKINNEY: Question?
SPEAKER 5: If you have a not-so-firm one that you already purchased, would you recommend like separately frying that up then cutting it and then adding it to this dish then?
BETH MCKINNEY: So the question is if you accidentally purchased a not-so-firm tofu, I would still cut it up, but I would just be very careful when I flip it. I won't man handle it as much.
The goal today is for me to encourage you to experiment, try a few things. As I said, these recipes are very forgiving. If you don't like peppers or mushrooms or leeks, you can put anything you want in this. OK.
Tofu is ready to eat. You don't have to cook it. In fact, my kids, they would just sprinkle soy sauce on it and eat it.
OK, what we're looking for is a little bit of brownness. And what we're getting is a little bit of loss of structural integrity. And what I'm going to do, because I've got a lot of food in this one wok, even though the recipe is saying add everything all in, I am going to take this out and then cook the vegetables and then throw it back in.
This lovely kitchen is sometimes not exactly like my kitchen at home. But what I'm going to actually prove is that this can be done, no matter what. Guaranteed
SPEAKER 6: Beth? Is this one regular? Tastes like regular black pepper, this one?
BETH MCKINNEY: It is not. These are Sichuan peppers. And they are very different than black peppers. They smell different, they taste different. They are extremely spicy. It's going to make the dish. Ma po tofu always has these peppers in it.
OK. So in goes the garlic, the ginger, and now the vegetables.
Once your garlic and your ginger are in there, if your oil is hot, they do not have to cook for a long time.
If you are trying to not use a lot of oil, you don't have to. But it's the oil is what gets hot and what actually cooks the food.
So this dish is going to be done as soon as the vegetables are done. And I still have it the highest flame.
OK I might move this along a little bit fast, because I do want to make sure that we all get to eat. So as these vegetables are-- they will cook a little more because they're going to continue to cook even after the liquid have been added. But here's a fun hint. When you are cooking Chinese food and you're adding sauce, if you add it down the side of the wok it will cook a little bit on the way down. And that adds to the flavor. And that's also something that Norman taught me. OK.
If you don't want this spicy, you can just do this with soy sauce. You don't need this chili paste. Chili means it's spicy.
OK so we're going to give this a couple minutes just to get everything cooking.
What are some things that you might substitute here if you didn't want leeks or green peppers or mushrooms?
SPEAKER 2: Cabbage.
BETH MCKINNEY: Cabbage? Absolutely.
SPEAKER 6: Cauliflower.
BETH MCKINNEY: Cauliflower.
SPEAKER 1: Carrots, celery.
BETH MCKINNEY: Carrots, celery, onions, broccoli, Swiss chard, kale. OK, so this recipe, you can use this formula for a recipe. This is the traditional recipe that is made with this tofu.
What if you didn't want tofu? Anything, anything.
SPEAKER 2: Or just veggies.
BETH MCKINNEY: Or just veggies. OK. So I'm going to show you, and this is it. This is the recipe. So it's losing a little structural integrity.
But what I'm going to do is I am going to get my corn starch mixture right in the middle. Because corn starch thickens liquid as it gets hot. The little corn starch molecules imbibe water.
And you know, you got to mix it up, because corn starch is really weird stuff. So you got to mix it up in the liquid, otherwise it's not going to pour in. And so this is going to be the sauce. So now it's heating up on the bottom of the wok. I stir it it's going to make a beautiful sauce. And you're going to have that I wonder if it's thick enough question.
And it's actually a little bit too thick, so I'm going to thin it out with some water.
OK, and this is essentially done. At home, you might want to cook the peppers just a little bit longer. And we're going to leave it on while I make the next dish. But the last thing that you do is you take the Sichuan peppercorn, and you sprinkle them on. And this is ma po tofu.
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This is a vegetarian version of a popular Chinese dish. Demo presented by Cornell Wellness staff Beth McKinney, RDN.