Andrea Nguyen’s Tofu-Mushroom Curry

“In the late summer of 2019, I hit a wall. I felt cruddy after years of eating everything I wanted, all in the name of professional research.” So beings Andrea Nguyen’s wonderful new cookbook Ever-Green Vietnamese, where she reimagines her traditional Vietnamese repertoire, seeking out savory depth while wearing more plant-forward goggles. Perhaps it’s not a surprise that the whole project energized her creatively and physically, conjuring her childhood in Vietnam, where her mom prepared mostly plant-based meals by necessity — meat was expensive and not as readily available. (Her family fled for Southern California in 1975.) Anyone who has spent a minute with me these last few years knows how much a part of my life Nguyen’s recipes are (her Shaking Beef, her Tofu Banh Mi!) and this book continues the tradition of making one of my more favorite cuisines eminently accessible….

The Pickled Bean Sprout salad that I brought to my friends house on Saturday night (shown here) calls for sugar, salt, white vinegar, water, and vegetables. There are Cauliflower Char Siu Cauliflower Sliders (Bánh Bay Kęp Chay) which involves tossing roasted crispy cauliflower with hoisin, sweet chili sauce, rice vinegar, and soy sauce and Shaking Salmon, the iconic Vietnamese main dish (Nguyen: “I’ve shaken beef and tofu…why not salmon?”) where there’s more salad than fish. And there is this homey, aromatic Tofu-Mushroom Curry, the recipe for which Nguyen was nice enough to share below. Can you believe how good that looks? I’m making it tonight.

Cà Ri Đậu Hũ và Nấm
From Ever-Green Vietnamese, by Andrea Nguyen
Printed with permission

(From Andrea) Here’s a confession: I made so-so Viet vegetable curry for years, relying on fish sauce as a cheat but the flavor was off. Finally, I developed this stellar vegan version. It employs the Indian method of browning fried onion to craft a flavorful base. Garlic and ginger lend zip; tomato, fresh mushrooms, and MSG add savory notes. Tofu soaks up all the flavors.Serve this alluring curry with baguette and a salad, or rice and leafy greens. Use leftovers for tacos.

Makes 4 servings

1 (14- or 16-oz) package extra-firm tofu, water poured off
Fine sea salt
3 Tbsp neutral oil (such as canola or peanut)
2⁄3 cup chopped yellow onion
1 Tbsp finely chopped peeled ginger
1 Tbsp finely chopped garlic
3 Tbsp minced lemongrass
Scant 2 tsp Madras-style curry powder, or a combination of 1 tsp ground coriander, scant 3⁄4 tsp garam masala, and 1⁄4 tsp ground turmeric
1⁄4 tsp MSG, or 1⁄2 tsp Asian mushroom seasoning or Marmite (optional)
1⁄8 tsp cayenne pepper, or 1⁄4 tsp red pepper flakes
6 oz tomato, grated on the largest hole of a box grater (keep juices and seeds)
10 oz medium cremini or white mushrooms, halved through the stems
1 1⁄3 cups full-fat unsweetened coconut milk (whisk before measuring)
1⁄4 cup water, plus more as needed
1⁄4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro sprigs or dill fronds

Pan-fry the tofu

Cut the tofu into 1-inch cubes. Season with a mounded 1⁄4 tsp salt, transfer to a dish towel, and let drain for 10 to 15 minutes.

Set a 12-inch nonstick or carbon-steel skillet over medium-high heat and add 1 Tbsp of the neutral oil. Meanwhile, pat the moisture from the tofu (I use a dry area of the dish towel). When the oil ripples, add the tofu and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, turning frequently to brown on two or three sides. Set aside to cool.

Cook the aromatics and simmer the curry

Set a 3-qt saucepan over medium-high heat and add the remaining 2 Tbsp neutral oil. When the oil barely ripples, add the onion and a sprinkling of salt and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until richly browned. Turn the heat to medium, then add the ginger, garlic, lemongrass, curry powder, MSG (if using), and cayenne. Stir for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the tomato, mushrooms, and 1⁄2 tsp salt. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. The mixture will condense to half its original volume; splash in water if things stick.

Add 1 cup of the coconut milk, re-cover, and lower the heat to a simmer for 5 minutes. Add the pan-fried tofu and water to barely coverthe solids. Simmer gently, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and gently stir in the remaining 1⁄3 cup coconut milk; let the curryrest for 10 minutes, uncovered.

Tweak, garnish, and serve

Taste the curry and season with additional salt, if needed; splash in water if the flavors are too strong. Stir in 3 Tbsp of the cilantro, transfer to a serving bowl, and crown with the remaining 1 Tbsp cilantro. Serve immediately.

(Photograph by Aubrie Pick.)

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