Thursday, September 3, 2009

Seaweed, celery, and tofu skin stir-fry

Please don't let the bad photo dissuade you from trying this recipe. I was too hungry to take my time on the pictures and got what I deserved. I got Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian last year, and he has recipes for several ingredients I had never tried before, most unusually seaweed (which he seems to be campaigning to call sea greens). I'm fairly adventurous, and I was very pleasantly surprised when I tried a seaweed salad in a Japanese restaurant for the first time, so I bought several kinds of seaweed when I was in Chinatown. They might also be available at Whole Foods and Central Market type stores, but they're dirt-cheap in Chinatown.
I don't know very much about seaweed, but there are several different kinds. Of course, everyone knows nori, which is used to wrap sushi. Kombu, or kelp, usually comes in brittle flat sheets and is used to make dashi, the stock used in miso soup. Hijiki, arame, and wakame come as small tendrils. Wakame is pretty salty, but none of the other ones I've mentioned are. I used half wakame and half hijiki in this recipe. Bittman says that arame and dulse can also be used. I've never encountered dulse, but he says it's a red seaweed native to New England. None of these are the kinds you find in Japanese restaurant seaweed salad. I don't know if that is easy to get fresh outside of Japanese restaurants. There are also sea beans, but I find them gaggingly salty.
In case you have trepidation about eating sea greens, you should know that I definitely didn't grow up eating them, but they aren't slimy or overly salty or fishy. They are high in iron, potassium, protein, and essential trace minerals like magnesium. (Not every one is high in every category, but most of them are high in at least one of those.)

Seaweed, celery, and tofu skin stir-fry (adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman)

2/3 cup dry seaweed, some combination of arame, dulse, hijiki, and wakame (I used half hijiki and half wakame)
1 4x4-inch square of kombu, thinly sliced (scissors work well to cut it)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup onions, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp ginger, minced
3 stalks celery, cleaned and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 oz tofu skins, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted if you want

Put the seaweed in a 2-cup measuring cup and add warm water up to 2 cups. The seaweed will expand like crazy. It's pretty amazing. You should have about 2 cups at the end. If you've got too much, just toss a little extra in the stir-fry or add it to the next Asian-style soup you make, or dress it with some sesame oil, ginger, and soy sauce for a little salad.
Cover the kombu in plenty of water and simmer for about 15 minutes so it will get soft. Save the soaking water, call it dashi, and use it to make miso soup later. Reserve the kombu.
Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions, garlic, and ginger and cook until the onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the seaweed, celery, kombu, and tofu skins. If the seaweed was well-drained, add a little water (not more than 1/4 cup), but if it wasn't, it shouldn't need more water. Cover the pan and cook for about 7 minutes. Stir in the soy sauce, sesame oil, and sesame seeds. Serve. I think this would be ideal served over brown rice, but I forgot to start cooking it, so I used black rice noodles, another exotic Chinatown find.

To make up for the bad picture at the beginning, here's a cool picture of some tofu skins before getting chopped and cooked.

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