I improvised this dish last night after having a craving for something I was once served in a Vietnamese restaurant. It's not really all that similar except that there is tofu in a tomato sauce, but it's still delish and relatively easy to prepare. (Sorry the picture's not that nice. It's hard to photograph really saucy things without them looking a bit like slop...)
1 lb medium firm tofu, sliced into 8 slabs
4 tbsp oil
4 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tsp Chinese five spice powder
salt and pepper
1 28oz can of diced tomatoes, or 4 - 6 large fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1" hunk of fresh ginger, minced
1/4 cup each soy sauce and rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp sweetener
pinch or two of kelp powder (offers up a flavour similar to fish sauce, and provides you with iodine; but is in fact totally optional if you don't have it on hand.)
1/2 cup fresh basil, minced and divided
salt and pepper to taste
Place the slabs of tofu in a single layer in a shallow dish. Whisk together the oil, rice wine vinegar and spices, then pour this over the tofu. Marinate at room temperature for at least half an hour; turning half way through. Preheat your oven to 400F. Place the tofu in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake 15 minutes. Turn the slices, and return to the oven for another 15 minutes. The tofu should be golden and firm at this point.
While the tofu is baking, prepare the tomato mixture. In a large skillet (cast iron is best) heat a splash of oil. Sauté the onion until tender, then add the garlic and ginger and sauté until fragrant. Add the remaining sauce ingredients (using only half the basil) and stir. Let this simmer while the tofu bakes. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking before adding the tofu.
Once the tofu is golden and crispy around the edges, carefully arrange it in the skillet with the tomato sauce. Try to place it in a single layer and spoon the tomato sauce over the top of each piece. Bring it to a boil, cover, reduce the heat, and let simmer for a minimum of 30 minutes, up to an hour and a half. Check the liquid levels now and then and add water as neccessary to keep it from going dry or burning. No need to stir.
Serve hot over cooked grains or rice vermicelli. Garnish with the remaining basil.
Yields four portions.
A time saving tip for crockpot lovers: Prepare the sauce a day ahead of time and refrigerate. Marinate the tofu in the fridge overnight. Then bake the tofu and add it, along with the sauce, to your crockpot. Let simmer on low for 8 - 12 hours.