Deep-Fried Tofu and Eggplant
Uncle Stephen filled in for Greg last night while the latter was out seeing "the worst play of his life". (Always a relief to hear I didn't miss out on anything fun...and that we didn't blow babysitting bucks on something sucky.) Now, Uncle Stephen's nothing if not accomodating. He lets the kids crawl all over him, smiting him with plastic swords and giving him all sorts of humiliating hairdos. He wouldn't rat me out to Miss Manners if I served him Jungle Curry in cardboard carry-out containers, but selflessness is a virtue deserving of reward, particularly when it involves hauling a sux-pack and seven Magnolia Bakery cupcakes on public transit in 22 degree weather. In truth, I wanted me some deep-fried tofu and eggplant, and I don't recall seeing it on the menu of any Japanese restaurant within delivery range. Also, I doubt it would travel as stoically as the legendarily un-complain-y Uncle Stephen.
Deep-Fried Tofu and Eggplant
Crack open a package of firm tofu and cut the cakes in half, so that the tops come off the bottom. Elevate one end of a cutting board on a dessert plate or something (ideally, the low end will lead toward the sink). Lay a cloth dish towel over the cutting board, line your tofu pieces up in a single layer, flip the top part of the dish towel down over them, put a heavy cutting board on top - I used a big old cracked wooden one I abused with raw poulty and dishwasher cycles - and get further medieval on that poor tofu with a 28-ounce can of tomatoes or a jar full of pennies or one of those decorative metal dachsunds you're supposed to wipe your muddy shoes on before entering grandma's house. Know what I'm talking about?
I don't have one, but I bet after half an hour or so, the excess moisture would be as nicely pressed out of your tofu as it would have been with a can of tomatoes.
Meanwhile, cut the caps off of 2 or 3 Chinese eggplants. quarter them lengthwise, score their skins in a Harlequin pattern, and chop them into finger lengths. If your eggplant options are limited, the Italian kind will work just fine, provided your lengthwise cuts split 'em into 1/8s or 1/10s - whatever it takes to achieve those pickle spear dimensions. Submerge them in cold water for 15 or 20 minutes.
If you don't have anything better to do, you could prepare your condiments:
Grate a couple of inches of fresh ginger on a really fine grater so you get that juicy mulch - all the fibers get stuck in the holes of the grater.
Chop a couple of scallions.
Now, back to the main event. Heat 2 cups of vegetable oil in a wok until it's really hot and the whole apartment smells like rancid popcorn. Cut the pressed tofu into triangles - four per slab if your tofu cakes were on the small side (4 to a pack); Six or eight triangles per slab, if you're dealing with the larger 2-cakes-to-a-pack variety.) Shake 5 tablespoons of potato starch or corn starch onto a plate, dust the tofu triangles on all sides, and slip them into your boiling oil! (Poor tofu. It's like some early Christian martyr!) When they're lightly browned on all sides, lift them out of the oil and drain them on paper towels.
Now, squeeze the moisture out of those eggplants like you're wringing some unfortunate water fowl's scrawny neck and throw them into the same bubbling oil to which the tofu was just subjected. A few minutes are all it takes to turn it into something submissive and brown. Drain it on paper towels too.
Get out a small pan and make a sauce by bringing to a boil
1/4 C of soy sauce
1/4 C of mirin
and 1 C of bonito stock
(Back before my first Japanese cookbook was the splattered mess that it is today, I followed the laborious instructions for making first and second generation bonito stock, using bonito flakes, cheese cloth and slimy ribbons of dried kelp. When my Japanese friends found out about this, my ignorance provoked such hilarity, they all but pelted me with tampons. Apparently, the only people who make it that way anymore are me and Reiko's 100-year-old grandma, except that I don't make it that way anymore, not since Reiko turned me on to It's MSG-riffic!
Dissolve a 1/4 teaspoon in a cup of water for this recipe!
Arrange three or four triangles of tofu into a pyramid in every diner's dish (In my humble opinion, this recipe is enough for two, because I don't want someone eating my seconds as firsts, you know?) Shore it up with collapsed eggplant. Dot some of the grated ginger around the eggplant and on the base of the triangles, then sprinkle the chopped scallions hither and yon. Pour the sauce around the eggplant, so the points of the tofu are still sticking up, all crispy-like.
Serve with plenty of white rice on the side, so you'll have something to soak up all that delicious soupy sauce when you've burned through the eggplant and tofu.