This was one of those recipes that seemed so unusual that I just had to try it. It comes from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I am not very familiar with Vietnamese cuisine, but he says that this sauce, which is caramel with lots of black pepper, is typical Vietnamese fare. It is really good! The caramel is sweet but a little bitter, and the salt from the soy sauce balances out the sweetness. 1 teaspoon of pepper is quite a lot. We aren't used to pepper being so integral to the taste of the dish. It's really nice.
The one thing I plan on changing next time is to add some vegetables. I am a vegetarian in part because I love to eat vegetables, and a meal of rice and tofu with brown sauce is not veggie-laden enough for me. The first time I made this, I made a side of kale, and it was really good. We had some spinach on the side last night when we had it, but while we were brainstorming, we decided that next time we're going to add some cubed eggplant to the sauce itself while it's cooking. I also think carrot and broccoli might stand up well to the sauce and be good additions. We'll let you know how it turns out.
Braised tofu in caramel sauce
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tsp dulse, optional (makes the soy sauce taste a little more like fish sauce)
1/2 cup diced onion
1 tsp ground black pepper
Juice of 1 lime
1-2 lbs. tofu, pressed if you have time, and cut into 1-inch cubes
Cooked brown rice for serving
Put a large, deep (we used a Le Creuset pot) skillet over medium heat. Add the sugar and 2 tbsp water. Cook, occasionally shaking the pan and/or stirring with a wooden spoon, until the sugar liquefies and darkens. Turn off the heat.
Combine soy sauce, dulse, and 1/2 cup water. Very carefully, add the soy mixture to the caramel. It will bubble furiously. Don’t let your skin be too close to it. It’s a little scary. When it has stopped bubbling, turn the heat up to medium-high and cook, stirring, until caramel has all dissolved into soy sauce liquid. It should only take a minute or so.
Add the onion and cook until soft, 3-4 minutes. Add black pepper, lime juice, and tofu. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tofu is heated through and seems to have taken in a lot of the caramel mixture. If you can’t tell, five minutes should be about right.
Serve over brown rice with a side of kale or other veggie.