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Cast Iron Stir-Fry With Avocado, Basil & Peanuts

Posted By IsaChandra On March 10, 2011 @ 11:20 pm In Entrees,Gluten Free,IsaDoesIt,Recipe,V-tines Day | 83 Comments

Serves 4
Total time: 30 mins || Active time: 30 mins

I don’t really like to be a culinary prescriptivist. I think it’s important to know what “authentic” food is, but I definitely don’t stick to it. Especially as a vegan chef, we’re constantly playing with tradition and concepts, creating vegan translations of classics and breathing new life into old favorites.

But the bottom line is that no matter what, my food will always be a reflection of the world as seen by a Jewish American woman from Brooklyn. As obsessed as I am with how things are really done, I will never be able to do them that way. I can watch the making of phyllo all day long and I can read books on the history of scalloped potatoes, but will I ever be able to make a stir-fry like a Cantonse chef? Hell no!

So I’ve all but given up on cooking with a wok. My kitchen has a budget on space and plus, I just wasn’t getting it right. Too many stir-fries end up as something else. The ingredients crowd the pan and the food ends up steaming instead. The heat is never quite high enough, the tofu doesn’t brown, the broccoli is mushy, chaos ensues. When I think stir-fry I think crisp, seared veggies and tofu with a nice skin, chewy and charred.

The only way for me to get it the way I like is to cook things separately, in a cast iron pan, at a very high heat, and very quickly. It doesn’t have to be the pain in the ass it sounds like – as each ingredient cooks you can prep the next, so everything should be ready in 30 minutes or so. I keep the sauce simple, salty but delicate, bringing the flavors out instead of obscuring them.

I live in a mixed couple home. We’re both vegan, but one of us is fat and one is skinny. I’m trying not to put more weight on and he’s always trying to keep his weight on or even gain a little, so instead of adding a lot of fat to the actual dish while cooking, I rely on the garnishes to even things out. He gets more avocado and peanuts, and I top mine with a little less. I used to only use Thai basil in stir fries, but I love the California tastes here. Peanut, avocado and fresh basil are the bestest besties in the world, and perfect for cooling off the stir-fry, adding creaminess, crunch and a burst of freshness.

If you don’t have a well seasoned cast iron skillet, you can still make this recipe in a regular pan, but cast iron really makes everything cook better and taste better! I use peanut oil in a spray bottle because of the high smoke point, but you can use a thin layer of peanut oil if you don’t want to spray it. I didn’t list how much, since I just spray it as needed, using as little as possible. If your cast iron is well seasoned, it doesn’t need much oil. Soon I’m going to do a little post on seasoning cast iron, so look out for that!

I love to serve this over quinoa, but brown jasmine rice is great, too. Oh, and keep the Sriracha close at hand if you love spice. Again, I really love it but since my boyfriend doesn’t I keep it relatively tame with some crushed red pepper flakes.

Sauce ingredients:

2 tablespoons hoison sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon soy sauce (or gluten free tamari)
1 tablespoon agave syrup
2 tablespoons water

For the stir-fry:

Peanut oil (in a spray bottle if you’ve got it)
14 oz tofu, cubed (press it if you have the time, otherwise just blot with a paper towel to remove moisture)
Fresh black pepper
1 lb broccoli, cut into florettes, stems sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 small red onion, sliced into half moons
1 bell pepper (red, yellow or orange), sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 teaspoons fresh minced ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (use half that if you’re a spice wimp)

To garnish:
Avocado, diced
Roasted salted peanuts
2 big handfuls fresh basil leaves, chiffonade (or thinly sliced)

Preheat the cast iron over high heat. On my stove, I bring it up to about 8, but stovetops vary. In the meantime, mix together the sauce ingredients and set aside.

Have at the ready a baking pan or mixing bowl to place the ingredients as they finish cooking. I like to use a 9×13 pan so that there’s plenty of room and things aren’t sitting on top of each other and steaming.

Once pan is good and hot, apply a thin layer of olive oil. Add the cubed tofu and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and fresh black pepper. The ingredients should immediately sizzle when they hot the pan, otherwise, turn the heat up. Cook for about 7 minutes, tossing often and spraying with oil as necessary, until it’s nicely browned, like so:

All sides don’t have to be evenly browned, just as long as a few of them are, you’re good to go.

Transfer tofu to the baking pan or bowl, and proceed with the broccoli. Apply a thin layer of oil, toss in broccoli, add a pinch of salt and fresh black pepper. Cook until broccoli is charred and bright green, about 5 minutes. Cover the pan between tosses, so that it cooks faster. Transfer to the pan with the tofu.

Now proceed with the onion and peppers. Apply a thin layer of oil, and toss in the onions and peppers. Spinkle with a pinch of salt and fresh black pepper. Cook for about 3 minutes, it should be charred but still crisp. Transfer to the pan with the tofu. Now we’ll finish it off with the sauce.

Add the garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes to the cast iron pan and drizzle with a little oil and saute until fragrant (about a minute) being careful not to burn. Add the sauce and mix together until heated through and bubbly, about 2 minutes.

Now, add back all the veggies and the tofu and toss to coat. Taste for salt and seasoning.

Serve over quinoa or brown rice, top with avocado, peanut and basil and serve hot!

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