last week i managed to squeeze in a quick trip to the brattleboro farmers’ market in vermont on the morning of my sister’s wedding. i couldn’t resist the chance to take advantage of the new fall produce. i was sad to learn that a surprise frost in the area meant that the crisp heads of lettuce and juicy tomatoes were likely to be the last i would get for the winter. the plump blueberries were also gone. but there was a fine fall selection of potatoes, onions, vibrant green and orange winter squashes, and young ginger to cheer me up.
ginger is delicious in everything from asian stir fries and dumplings to soothing after-dinner tea, and it’s a great aromatic that’s available in the grocery store year round. what isn’t always available is young ginger, which is tenderer, sweeter, and milder. it’s often sold with the stalks attached, and you can use the whole plant. the leaves and stalks can be used to flavor broths, tea, and steamed fish or meats, but the root is the real prize. since i was lucky enough to find young ginger, i decided immediately to make it the base of a tasty dish.
now, asian food happens to be one of the cuisines i find most challenging to cook. we’ve never had the cabinet space for a wok, so making stir fries is hard, and it’s not always easy to find the right balance of flavors with all the delicious sauces, oils, and vinegars available. but this time, i kept the flavors simple and did what i could to let the ginger shine through. the result was a delicious and healthy meal. you can of course make this dish with mature ginger. but if you can get your hands on some young ginger i highly suggest using it. you will get to experience a whole other side of this zingy root.
young ginger sauté with braised tofu and bok choy
3/4 cup soy sauce
3/8 cup rice vinegar
5 tsp mirin
1/4 cup + 5 tsp sesame oil (i prefer toasted sesame oil, but regular sesame oil is great too)
2 tsp hot sesame oil, or to taste
1 14-oz package of firm tofu, cut into 8 slices
4 large heads of bok choy, leaves separated
1 4-inch piece young ginger, peeled and julienned
1 1-inch piece young ginger, peeled and cut into medium dice
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
2 medium carrots, julienned
1 unripe mango, peeled and julienned
1/2 head of napa cabbage, thinly sliced
12 oz vietnamese rice noodles
1/4 cup roasted peanuts, lightly crushed
1. preheat the oven to 350°f. then combine the soy sauce, rice vinegar, mirin, 5 tsp sesame oil, and hot sesame oil in a bowl to prepare the sauce.
3. pour half the sauce and the diced ginger into a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. add the tofu slices in a single layer and arrange the bok choy leaves evenly on top of the tofu. roast in the oven for 30 minutes, basting every 10 minutes. after 30 minutes, remove and set aside.
4. while the tofu and bok choy are cooking, heat a large sauté pan over medium-low heat until warm.
5. add 1/4 cup sesame oil to the pan and increase the heat to medium-high. add the scallions and ginger and sauté, stirring to prevent browning, for 2 minutes. then add the carrots and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. add the cabbage and mango and cook for 5 minutes. add half the remaining sauce to the pan, stir, and cook for another 5 minutes. set aside.
6. while the vegetables are cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil. cook the rice noodles according to the package instructions, usually around 1-3 minutes. strain noodles when cooked, and toss with the remaining sauce.
7. serve the sauteed vegetables over the noodles, with the tofu and bok choy on the side. garnish with the diced ginger and crushed peanuts. and don’t forget to pour yourself a cold glass of sake!