Sunday, April 10, 2011

Semi-Asian Rice, Veggie & Tofu Bowls

Last Saturday afternoon, Brady and I happened upon a new and different-looking restaurant on the edge of the UPenn campus. (Apparently its so new that I can't find a decent photo online yet.) We were planning to go to our local Pho restaurant for some deliciously spicy Vietnamese soup, but because of a family emergency, it was closed that day. 

Giant. Bummer. 

Next on the agenda after lunch was an event at the UPenn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, so we walked farther in that  direction in hopes of finding something to snack on. There is not a lot to choose from in the area - a pizza place, a frat-boy infested Mexican place, and a Salad Works - so we were surprised when we saw T-Bowl: Passionate about Food at Tea. Since we are both interested in both food at tea, we decided to give it a try. When we first walked in, we were both a little confused. Was it a salad bar? A stir-fry place? Well as it turns out, it's the best of both, if you ask me. 

The concept is this: First you choose white or brown rice (brown rice all the way, I say), then you have your choice of a multitude of veggies, each added for about $1 each. Choices for proteins include egg, chicken, shrimp, tofu, various types of nuts, and beef. Then comes the sauces, which were numerous, and very difficult to choose just one. For my brown rice, edamame, green onion, carrot and shrimp concoction, I chose an African chile and garlic sauce, which was fantastic. Like, really awesome. So awesome that I tried to recreate some fraction of its deliciousness to go with dinner tonight.

Once you've designed your meal, it is "grilled" (lightly sauteed, really) in organic vegetable broth and your sauce of choice and brought to your table. Though I think their prices are a bit high, the flavors were so bold and distinct that I can't help but try it at home.

So here is my game plan for doing it at home: 
Lightly seasoned brown rice topped with (sauteed) snow peas, shredded carrot, green onion, and some cubed, pan-fried tofu. I am planning on using a low-sodium chicken stock, since that's what I have on hand, and cooking the tofu in sesame oil. The part that I was less certain about was the sauce. 

There is something you should know about me. I don't really measure, as such. Unless I'm baking, everything in my kitchen is subject to my (fallible) artistic license. I recommend reading my recipes the same way: Unless it is a tried and true bread recipe (coming soon!) don't take anything as gospel truth. Make it your own. That said, some combination of the following ended up in the sauce:

1.5 tsp Sriracha, or "Rooster Sauce"
2 tsp Grated ginger root
1 tsp Orange zest
2 tsp Lemon juice
a few shakes of Curry powder
a few shakes of Cumin
1 more-effective-than-expected shake of cayenne pepper
1 clove of Garlic, peeled and smashed
2 tsp Tahini
a hefty drizzle of Sesame oil
a less hefty drizzle of Soy sauce
              ... And a bit of cilantro.

I used a small blender (a 2 cup Ninja food processor) to make the sauce.

First I started the rice, then I fried up the tofu, and set it aside. Sometimes it seems crazy to me that brown rice can take 40 minutes to cook, but in favor of the dubious contents of those microwaveable rice bags, I don't mind it so much.

After draining the excess sesame oil from the tofu pan, I mixed about a tablespoon of the sauce above with about 1 cup of the chicken stock, brought it to a boil, and reduced it by about a third. After that I tossed in a couple handfuls of snow peas and some sliced carrot, which I cooked as LITTLE as humanly possible.*

When the veggies were done I plated the rice, tossing tofu and veggies on top, and topped it all with a little chopped scallion.  Of course, I poured a large amount of the sauce/stock juices on the rice, and the extra sauce I served along side. Yum!

I can't really say that this turned out just like our tasty lunch at TBowl, but it was definitely a tasty adaptation. And if you use vegetable stock instead of chicken (someone correct me if I'm wrong) it is also a vegan dish.

*As a kid, I used to watch The Frugal Gourmet on TV with my Dad fairly often. I recently read a quote from the chef on the show, Jeff Smith: “Please understand the reason why Chinese vegetables taste so good. It is simple. The Chinese do not cook them, they just threaten them!" So, I threatened my vegetables, and it paid off big time.


  1. Hi... Looks great - as you know I am a tofu lover! I'm curious about using sesame oil for the frying. I had always been told it's more of a flavoring oil than frying, and that it has a low burn point. Did it work well to use only sesame oil for that portion of the process ( I.e. No scorching and/ or overly sesame) or would one do better to cut that with veg oil?

  2. For tofu (which of course is notoriously bland) I think sesame oil is great for frying, though there is no reason you couldn't cut it if you felt the flavor was too strong. Over medium heat, I've never had a problem with scorching, though, and I just love the aroma! In this dish the sauce also had a lot of bold flavor so I didn't want the tofu to go unnoticed :-)