All of the above.
Especially today. Maybe you, too.
And still, I've needed to eat. I am rarely without motivation to cook, more rarely still, without appetite. It's been a rare week. These are the weeks when I need food that reminds me to eat, what to eat, why to eat. Food that comes together in fifteen, including breaks to wipe crumbs and talk about odes and discuss nuclear power and spell S-U-S-P-I-C-I-O-U-S. Food that demands only knife and flame, plus a few pantry stand-bys, and zero effort. Fast, easy, fantastically nourishing food. Bonus points for mindless. Preferably dazzling.
I don't think that's too much to ask.
Neither, apparently, does Fuschia Dunlop. This dish is a serious riff off one in Dunlop's exquisite Every Grain of Rice. My copy is bristling with post-it notes marking dishes I intend to get to, soon. Right after I get past this.
What began in her book as a crisp, cold bar snack, evolved in my kitchen into a sweet, fiery stir-fry. Common to both are small cubes of smoked tofu, diced celery, and roasted peanuts. These three are stir-fried, fast and hot, in a splash of peanut oil already acquainted with dried chilis. When the celery's gone see-through but still has bite, and the tofu's gained a bit of color at the edges, and the peanuts have darkened a shade or two, a flick of sweet chili sauce goes in. It stays on the stove just a minute or two more, but that final stretch is a doozy. The vivid red sauce melts on impact and turns into a glaze, a sweet-hot veneer. The key players absorb a wisp of its fire. The sugars caramelize at the edges. Ten minutes have passed. Hello, hunger.
It's a fascinating dish, too easy to be true, too addictive not to repeat. A real part of its charm is size, each player—celery, tofu, peanut—equal in stature. The appeal of this is irrational, and huge.
The combination of ingredients is inspired, a trio I never would've thought to assemble, and which I now can't imagine apart. The celery, sweet, grassy, retains its snap, but goes a little silky at the edges. The tofu, already pressed and smoked, brings a marvelous sultry chew. And those peanuts, plain old peanuts, earthy roasty crunchy peanuts, feel like they finally get their due.
One batch feeds me well for two lunches. (Unlike most stir-fries, it's a reasonable re-heat). It's plenty solo, and wonderful with brown rice, and absolutely smashing with slow stir-fried peppers, their sweet silky selves a grand foil for the crunch and chew of their bowl-mate.
If you start the peppers first, then get going on the tofu, you'll have everything ready at once, twenty minutes, start to feast. I know this, because I've done this, a dozen times in half as many weeks. If I'm to get to the other post-its, I'll have to be stern. But seeing as I smuggled home more smoked tofu this week, it may be a slow, soft-pedalled stern. Because even when I've no motivation and less appetite, I tend to fall hard for quick, thrilling riots. Maybe you, too?
A Sweet Fiery Stir-Fry of Smoked Tofu, Celery + Peanuts
adapted from Fuschia Dunlop, Every Grain of Rice
Yield: 2 servings, with vegetables and rice
Pressed tofu is avaialable at large supermarkets, natural food stores, and Asian markets. I buy this smoked tofu at Whole Foods. Five-spice is a good alternative, if you like it's flavor (I'm not partial). Ordinary white tofu is too tender to work, here. Heat varies by brand of sweet chili sauce. I have both this and this in my fridge door at the moment, and find one good glug (2-ish) teaspoons just right. Adjust based on your brand and taste buds.
1 tablespoon peanut oil
2 dried thai chilis
4 oz. smoked tofu
3 large-ish stalks celery
1 ounce (scant 1/4 cup) roasted, salted peanuts
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons sweet chili sauce, plus more to taste
Cut tofu into 1/2" dice. Slice celery stalks lengthwise, into three long batons, then slice cross-wise, into small dice to match the tofu. Squeeze peanuts lightly in your hand, to separate into halves. Set aside.
Heat a wok or medium heavy skillet over high heat, until smoking, 30 seconds. Add the oil, and heat until wisps of smoke appear, 30 seconds. Add dried chilis and celery, and stir-fry 1 minute. Add tofu, and stir-fry 2 more minutes. Add peanuts, salt, and sugar, and stir-fry another 3-5 minutes, until celery is transparent, tofu caramelized, and peanuts a shade darker. Add sweet chili sauce, and stir-fry 1-2 minutes, until it has melted, glazed everything, and begun to caramelize. Check for seasonings, add salt, sugar, and/or more chili sauce to taste, and enjoy.