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Leafy Chinese Tofu {vegan, gluten free}

Bright flavors of green spinach and soy sauce today bestow a tasty pizzazz on this pan-fried tofu. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and serve over quinoa brown rice–it’s a complete meal! That easy. Leafy Chinese tofu—simple and savory—I’m hungry just thinking about it.

Leafy Chinese Tofu

“This is mighty healthy,” Robbie would say. Sure this Asian feast is healthful, but it’s also one of my favorite quick dinners. I’ve certainly been cooking it for a long time—I’m not kidding—almost 40 years—yikes! The recipe comes from a dog-eared paperback cookbook I’ve had since the days of yore.

Leafy Chinese Tofu

Said cookbook, Diet for a Small Planet, fueled my newfound vegetarian leanings–way back when I was a college student working on a ski bum degree.

If I had to describe the book in one sentence–to put it simply: The author, Frances Moore Lappé, teaches how plant-based and meat-centered diets affect our food systems. It’s a treatise as well as a cookbook. Diet for a Small Planet, the book this recipe comes from, sealed the deal. Many moons later, I’m still meatless.

Leafy Chinese Tofu

Dinner in one hour? No problem. Start rice and quinoa in pot. Press extra water from tofu. Heat skillet, sauté tofu. Clean spinach. Toast sesame seeds. Wilt spinach. With tamari. Serve with love. Vegan and gluten free. Plant protein.

Diet for a Small Planet explains how to get plenty of protein without meat. As in–the protein in this recipe comes from sesame seeds and tofu, plus a bed of brown rice and red quinoa.

cookbook for Leafy Chinese Tofu recipe

I treasure my old yellowed cookbook for the memories it holds. I suppose I could order a brand new 20th anniversary revised edition, to replace my copy that’s held together with clear contact paper. But like blue jeans and cast iron skillets, my worn cookbook got better with age.

Can old favorite recipes get better over time? Absolutely! Way back in the 70’s, author Lappé instructed, “Serve over brown rice.” Nowadays, to accompany leafy Chinese tofu, I mix half red quinoa into basmati brown rice. You get the nuttiness of brown rice, plus quinoa nutrients. Protein count, eye appeal and flavor and nutrition… better than ever. I’m sure Ms. Lappé will approve.

red quinoa and rice for Leafy Chinese Tofu

Leafy Chinese Tofu recipe notes:

  • Unless you lived in the South American Andes, quinoa wasn’t even on the radar when Diet for a Small Planet was first published in 1971.
  •  1 cup of cooked brown rice has 5 grams of protein; 1 cup of cooked quinoa has 8 grams.
  •  Vegans: Quite a few recipes in the book include cheese, yogurt and eggs.

Wishing you a fabulous week–get in the kitchen and cook something delicious!

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Leafy Chinese Tofu
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Leafy Chinese Tofu
Dinner in one hour? No problem. Start rice and quinoa in one pot. Press the extra water from the tofu. Sauté the tofu in a skillet. Clean spinach. Toast and grind sesame seeds. Wilt the spinach with tamari. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and love. It's that easy!
Ingredients
  • ½ cup red quinoa
  • ½ cup brown basmati rice
  • 1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon Real Salt
  • 14 ounces firm or extra-firm tofu
  • 1 bunch fresh spinach , stems removed, washed (about 12 ounces spinach)
  • 1 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons tamari soy sauce
Instructions
  1. In a saucepan, bring 2 cups water to a boil. Add the quinoa and rice, cover and return to a boil. Reduce heat to very low and cook, covered, 30 to 40 minutes, or until the liquid has been absorbed. (To see if the liquid has been absorbed without stirring, tilt the pan to the side.) Let sit 5 to 10 minutes to cool. Fluff with a fork.
  2. Press excess water from the tofu: Place the tofu on top of a clean tea towel (without terrycloth nubs.) Cover with another towel or paper towels. Place a dish on top and place something heavy on the dish. After 5 minutes the tea towels will have absorbed excess water.
  3. Grind the toasted sesame seeds in a blender or food processor for about 5 seconds. You want some of the seeds to remain whole. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the salt.
  4. Tear the spinach into pieces no larger than the size of a credit card.
  5. Cut the pressed tofu into cubes, about 3/4-inch square.
  6. In a non-stick skillet, on medium high, heat the coconut and sesame oils until shimmering. Add the tofu. Let it get golden on one side, then turn the cubes over and cook on another side, turning occasionally until the tofu is crisp golden brown on most sides. This should take about 15 minutes.
  7. Push the tofu to the sides of the pan. Arrange the spinach in the middle of the pan. Sprinkle with tamari soy sauce, cover, and steam just to wilt the spinach, 2 to 4 minutes.
  8. Sprinkle the sesame seed/salt mixture on top of the spinach and tofu.
  9. Serve over the steamed quinoa rice.
Recipe Notes
  • Start the quinoa and brown rice first--while it’s cooking you can prepare everything else.
  • 1 cup of uncooked quinoa/rice yields about 3 cups cooked. You might have some leftover—freeze it and add to soup when you’re looking for some texture.
  • I try to keep a package of tofu on hand. Refrigerated and unopened, it has about a six-week expiration date—just be sure to check the date before buying.

4 comments

  • Judy Lujan

    This is a favorite of mine, too. But it’s not Chinese. I live and work in China where I was stunned to discover that people don’t eat spinach and tofu together. Folks at the vegetable market (where I buy my spinach AND my tofu) always assure me that it will make me sick if I eat them together. I always assure them that it never has yet and I’ve been eating them together for 40 years! Reply · 3 January, 2015

    • Letty

      Thanks for the note Judy. Good thing we’ve never been sick from eating tofu and spinach together!
      I wonder–do they cook bok choy with tofu? Reply · 3 January, 2015

  • My husband brought that dog-eared paperback into our marriage, and I always liked it! Reply · 18 January, 2015

    • Letty

      I also have the companion paperback which is literally falling apart–more great recipes. Recipes for a Small Planet by Ellen Buchman Ewald. Reply · 18 January, 2015

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