I first introduced J to tofu a few months ago. It was out on the side in the kitchen and he thought it was a block of cheese, so I tentatively offered him a small piece fully expecting it to be spat out as soon as it hit his taste buds but I was wrong. Within seconds he was asking for “more cheese please”. The tofu was a basil infused variety and very tasty indeed. As a family we don’t eat too much meat and J eats less than us. I guess it’s a texture thing and I am told by my parenting friends that they have the same thing with their kids so I was delighted that he took to tofu as it is an excellent source of protein.
A few weeks ago I was idly browsing Hugh Fearnley-Whittinstall’s River Cottage Veg Everyday searching for something vegetable packed and tasty for dinner when I came across the recipe for Winter stir-fry with Chinese five-spice. As with a lot of vegetable recipes the vegetables can be changed to accommodate whatever you have kicking about in the fridge and I thought this would be an ideal dish to throw some tofu into. The only thing I didn’t have was the Chinese five-spice and I wasn’t confident that a) I actually knew what it was or b) I could substitute it for something equally oriental. So I headed to the supermarket.
I picked up the container of Chinese five-spice and tossed it in the trolley without so much as a glance at the label. I didn’t even think to look at the contents of ingredients until I was too far into cooking to turn back. If I had I am certain that I would never have discovered the delights of this dish.
There is so much I shouldn’t like about Chinese five-spice. It contains star anise and fennel, two things right at the top of my food hell list. It also contains cloves, something else I can take or leave and cinnamon – the Marmite of the spice world.
I was just about to tip the spices into the wok when I decided to read the back of the container. I almost stopped to recoil in horror, abandon the dish and reach for the baked beans but I decided that the worst that could happen was that my portion went in the bin and I had to move straight on to the pudding.
I fried up some thin slices of carrot, leek, spring cabbage, a handful of peas and a few sliced mushrooms with red chilli and garlic until they were soft and then quickly transferred to a warm bowl. Then I threw the cooked egg noodles into the hot pan along with the spices*, vinegar and soy sauce and warmed for a few moment. At this point, completely off recipe, I added a good handful of toasted cashews and the sliced tofu. After that the vegetables were tossed back in and served immediately with a squeeze of fresh lime in warmed bowls.
The spices add a slightly aromatic flavour to the vegetables which is in no way over powering. J loved it and it has become a firm favourite on our menu. It is also a great way to encourage a bit of vegetable trying and can be eaten easily with little fingers. The vegetables remain sweet and full of flavour with a hint of crunch.
*I would say to add the vegetables in what ever quantity you like, I alter them to suit how many are around the table but I generally leave the spices in the same quantity: half a teaspoon of sugar, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of rice wine and half a teaspoon of Chinese five-spice.
When I finished writing this blog post I noticed that one of the photographs that the WordPress Media Gallery thought would be a good addition was of the Spice Girls. So here they are – Sport, Posh, Ginger, Scary and Baby. Not a star anise in sight!