Milena’s Cooking Adventures – Yesterday Was Monday
Here in France, there are incredible ingredients– fresh butter, quality local leeks, incredible varieties of meat, more cheese than anyone could eat in a lifetime (although I am doing my level best). When I was in Chicago, the limp vegetables made me want to cry, but cooking in France is a joy. Still, whenever you move continents, just as some ingredients (high quality cheap wine, lardons, mimolette, dijon mustard) become more abundant, some ingredients that used to be standard to you seem impossible to find (baking powder, brown sugar, chilis, spices). It’s a trade-off, and if you like cooking, it becomes a bit of a challenge.
For my lunch I made for my friends, I decided to make Mee Goreng, an Indonesian fried noodle dish, since it’s something I make regularly and find absolutely delicious. It wasn’t a new recipe to me and I figured it’d be easy enough to find the ingredients. I was wrong. Chili-garlic paste was nowhere. Bak choy wasn’t an option. Stir-fry noodles aren’t a staple here. And the secret ingredient (molasses) apparently doesn’t exist in France. Finally I found a small Japanese store that, although it didn’t have quite what I needed, had an approximation. So I made do and went with what turned out to be a different dish than I usually make. To be fair, I’ve never tasted any Mee Goreng besides my own, so I’m sure even my “standard” version is a terrible bastardisation of the original. That said, I find it delicious. I hope one day I’ll get to try it outside of my own kitchen.
The recipe that I based this on comes from America’s Test Kitchen’s Vegetarian cookbook, which includes a lot of cheaty workarounds for things like fish sauce. For Mee Goreng, ATK found that including molasses gave that umami sweet-salty taste that meat usually provides. Since molasses apparently isn’t a thing in France, I used honey instead, and a bit of apple cider vinegar to cut it. A less complex flavour, but it worked well enough. This recipe is for people who want a simpler Mee Goreng, with ingredients that are not too hard to find.
Make-Do Mee Goreng with Carrots and Tofu
For 2-3 people (double recipe to make for 4-5)
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 TBS chili-garlic paste (I had to use a garlic-chili bean sauce, which was salted. If you find a salted paste, make sure to add less soy sauce)
- 1 TBS apple cider vinegar
- 1-2 cloves crushed garlic (optional– I just like having more garlic flavour)
You may decide the ratios for these– I’ve put suggestions, but you can adjust according to your own tastes
- enough canola oil to cover bottom of a frying pan to about 1/2 inch up the sides
- 1 package Firm Tofu, cut into squares
- 2-4 shallots, chopped finely
- 2-3 carrots, chopped thinly on the bias
- 2 packets stir-fry noodles (fresh preferred- if dry, make sure to rehydrate before adding to stir-fry)
- 1 cup water
- 1 TBS cornstarch
- 1 green onion, chopped finely
- 1 lime
Combine all ingredients in a jar and shake to thoroughly combine. I prefer to do this the night before to let everything marinate in the fridge.
- Put enough oil in a frying pan to cover the bottom up to about 1/2 inch. Heat on medium-high heat.
- Meanwhile, put cut tofu on a plate with a couple paper towels on it. Cover with a couple more paper towels and preeeeeeeesss to squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
- Pour some cornstarch into a medium bowl.
- Take tofu (as dry as possible) and put into cornstarch, turning with fingers to coat lightly and evenly with cornstarch
- Put cornstarch-coated tofu into frying pan of oil and fry on each side until golden brown. If your tofu begins to look dry, you’re overcooking it. Aim for the outside to be crispy and golden brown, but still looking juicy.
- Put on plate with paper towels on it to let the oil drain
Bringing the Mee Goreng together
- In a large pot or frying pan (preferable), heat up about 1-2 TBS of vegetable oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add in shallots and carrots and cook until browned. The carrots should still be fairly crunchy, not soft.
- Add in the stir-fry noodles and stir to incorporate. Then let them brown, stirring occasionally to avoid burning.
- Pour in the sauce you’ve prepared, plus 1 cup of water. Add in tofu and turn up the heat to high. Stir fairly continuously.
- When the liquid has reduced down by about half, take out a ladelful of the hot liquid and pour into a small bowl. Sprinkle in the 1 TBS cornstarch while constantly and quickly whisking with a fork.
- When the cornstarch is completely incorporated, add the mixture back into the pot, and stir vigorously.
- Continue to cook for a brief moment– the sauce should quickly thicken and coat everything.
- Take off heat, put onto individual plates, and garnish with green onions. Squeeze a bit of lime juice on and enjoy!