spicy stir-fried noodles with tofu and baby spinach

1:23:00 PM

I love noodles. Growing up, my favorite food was Chinese take out. I have yet to find a really, legitimately good Chinese restaurant in Madison, but the chicken with broccoli from Chang Jiang was my favorite. Even now when I order Chinese food, which is rare, I like to get a side of the vegetable lo mein.

When I very first start cooking, I was heavily into Asian flavors, because I didn't really know what I was doing, and it was easy for me to pull together a stir-fry very quickly. I think the first thing I really cooked from a recipe when I was in college was a spicy sweet and sour chicken, and I loved it so much that I ate it pretty much every week. Now that I have more time in my day to cook, I've expanded quite a bit in my culinary escapades, but I always love coming back to simple Asian-style (well, Americanized Asian) combinations.

I make this a lot toward the end of the week when we're running low on groceries, because tofu lasts a long time in the fridge, and you can add whatever vegetables you have leftover. The original recipe called for bok choy, but I'm not a huge fan, so I like to substitute spinach. But any sauteed vegetables would be good in this! Carrots, snow peas, broccoli - all would be good.

On the side here, I have spicy brussels sprouts. No recipe really, though I may make a separate post sometime with more exact instructions, because they are delicious. We got these brussels sprouts in our CSA, and they were very loose and leafy. Brussels sprouts are my favorite vegetable. My dad used to boil them, mash them, and give them to me with salt and butter, and for some reason I thought this was delicious. I'm a little more sophisticated with my brussels sprouts these days, but these ones are easy: just toss some sliced brussels sprouts with a bit of oil, sriracha, and a small amount of honey. (I did these ones whole since they weren't compacted like normal brussels sprouts.) How much of each ingredient depends on your taste, spice tolerance, and amount of sprouts you have. Roast in a 400 degree oven until they are getting browned and crispy (this was a very short amount of time for mine, about 5 minutes, as they were so leafy.)

spicy stir-fried noodles with tofu and baby spinach 
serves 4

for the noodles

1 package of extra-firm or super-firm tofu (usually 12-14 oz)
cooking spray or oil
1 lb of fresh Chinese lo mein egg noodles (I find these in the freezer of my Asian aisle at my store. 8 oz of dried lo mein noodles would also work.)
toasted sesame oil
4 cloves of garlic, minced
a few handfuls of baby spinach, bok choy, or vegetables of your choice, cut into small pieces
1 tbsp sugar
1-2 tbsp garlic chili paste (sriracha would also work) - adjust for your spice tolerance!
juice of 1 lime (about 2 tbsp)
2 tbsp black bean sauce
2 tbsp soy sauce (dark soy sauce is delicious here if you can find it!)
salt and pepper to taste

for the brussels sprouts
brussels sprouts
canola oil or sesame oil
rice wine vinegar
salt and pepper
(quantities depend on your taste preference and how many sprouts you have)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. If you have a convection oven setting, use it! Start by draining the tofu. To do this, slice it into about eight equal pieces, and lay them flat on several layers of paper towels (or a clean dish towel.) Top with more layers of paper towels and lay some heavy stuff on them - I usually use a heavy skillet, but anything works! Let drain for about 20-30 minutes. Replace the paper towels if they become soaked through.

Once tofu is drained, cut into cubes or rectangles. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment, spray with cooking spray or oil, and add the tofu cubes. Toss them with a little bit of oil also (or spray with cooking spray) and salt and pepper. Bake until tofu is crispy. In a convection oven setting, this will happen quite a bit faster than a regular oven. (It takes about 15-20 minutes if I use the convection oven, about 30-40 on a regular oven, so check regularly as ovens vary.)

While tofu is cooking, make the sauce. Combine sugar, chili paste, lime juice, black bean sauce, and soy sauce.

Cook noodles according to package directions. This will vary greatly depending on your noodles and whether you use fresh or dried. Many Asian noodles will have two sets of directions, one is usually for "stir frying". Follow that one! You don't want to overcook the noodles or they will turn mushy once you stir-fry them, so err on the side of underdone. Save about a cup of the cooking liquid before draining! 

If you're using vegetables other than spinach, saute them now in a bit of sesame oil until crisp-tender. Set aside.

Heat a couple tbsp of sesame oil in a pan and add the garlic. Saute for 30 seconds, then add the sauce, noodles, about a half cup of the reserved cooking liquid, and any vegetables you've cooked.  Saute until everything is heated and the sauce thickens. Add in the spinach until it wilts. Lastly, add the crispy tofu and cook until heated through. If sauce is too thick, add a bit more reserved cooking liquid.

For the brussels sprouts: Remove tough outer leaves from sprouts and discard. Cut off the stems. Slice in half, or you can cut each sprout into several slices - whatever you prefer. Place sprouts in bowl, drizzle with some sesame or canola oil. Add a few splashes of rice wine vinegar, sriracha, and a drizzle of honey. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven at 400 degrees until they're browned and getting crispy - the exact time will depend on how big the sprouts are. Typically it will take between 10-20 minutes.

Noodle recipe adapted from Cooking Light

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