There are few times of year I love better than that moment when the temperature (or at least the night temperature) drops just enough to pull out the old Dutch oven and start making soups and stews. They’re probably my favorite thing to cook—low-pressure, hard to screw up, one-pot recipes that yield leftovers for days (and as a bonus, the leftovers usually taste better the longer they sit).
This one is one of my favorites for when I feel like I need to inject more vegetables and, well, more health into my diet. It’s a really fragrant mixture of coconut, lemongrass, ginger, and soy sauce, chock full of vibrant, tasty veggies and silky tofu. You can mix and match ingredients depending on what’s in your fridge (and what you like), so don’t be put off by the long ingredient list. Take it more as a list of suggestions. And while I love the texture of extra-soft tofu in this, chicken, seafood, or even lean, thinly sliced beef would be great too.
This is a winding-down recipe—a leisurely process of chopping lots of vegetables, not a 30-minute meal. I like to chop while catching up on DVRed TV episodes, but if you don’t live in a little apartment where you can see your TV from your kitchen counter, just turn on some good music and take your time. Once you’ve got all your veggies chopped, it comes together in no time.
Tofu & Vegetable Stew
- A few lugs vegetable or canola oil
- 2-3 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
- 2 stalks lemongrass, slashed randomly with a knife (just to release juices) OR 2-3 kaffir lime leaves for a different but equally intoxicating fragrance (I keep both in my freezer)
- 1 knob of ginger (however big you like), peeled roughly and cut into matchsticks
- 1 serrano or thai chili, sliced thinly (de-seed if you don’t want too much heat)
- 1 head bok choy, most of the white stalk removed, sliced into thick ribbons
- 2 small (or 1 large) eggplant, sliced into half moons or small discs
- 1 bunch radishes (any variety), sliced into small discs
- 2 big handfuls of okra (I like to use the baby kind when I can—no knife work required. Otherwise, slice each okra pod into 3-4 equalish pieces. If you’re slicing your okra, you’ll need to up your liquids to compensate for its thickening properties—start with an extra cup of water and go from there, adding more if it still looks thick to you.)
- 2-3 carrots, sliced into small discs
- 1 handful shiitake mushrooms, stalks removed, sliced (I use dried mushrooms if I don’t have fresh ones around. Just soak in boiling water for 15 minutes to reconstitute. Bonus: use the soaking water in place of regular water in your stew—just strain when you pour it in to remove any grit.)
- 2-3 cubanelle peppers (the smaller, oblong bell peppers) or 1 large bell pepper, sliced
- 2-3 tomatoes, sliced into small wedges
- 1 can light coconut milk
- 2 cups water (or mushroom soaking liquid—see above)
- 1/2 cup (or to taste) soy sauce
- 1 container extra-soft tofu
- 1 large handful basil, chiffonaded or just roughly torn
- 3-4 scallions, sliced
- Fresh lime for garnish
- Sesame oil for garnish
Start by heating the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Saute your aromatics (garlic, lemongrass, ginger, chili) slowly, until they soften. Add your hardiest vegetables (carrots, eggplant, radishes, okra) and let cook for 5-10 minutes, until starting to soften.
Add the softer veggies (mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers) and saute 3-5 minutes more, until everything is softening together. Add your liquids and up the heat to high. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer.
Add your tofu by simply crumbling it into the pan with your hands. Don’t be precise about it. Stir in the basil and scallions. Let simmer gently for 10-15 minutes to let the flavors come together. Adjust seasoning with a bit more soy sauce if needed.
Serve with rice (I like brown or wild rice), garnished with lime slices and a tiny kiss of sesame oil.