- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Chinese New Year is a colorful celebration that generally follows the American-European New Year by about a month. A bright light in the darkness of winter, this holiday gives us a lovely excuse to make a special stir-fry dinner, replete with a flavorful sauce and a bright green foreshadowing of spring.

Enjoy this broccoli stir-fry with an easy peanut sauce, knowing it is every inch as nutritious as it is tasty. I find the combination of textures and flavors plays quite well to even the non-vegetarians among us, as well as to children who might be inclined to shy away from other vegetable combinations.

This recipe is also a terrific way to slip some tofu onto the plates of tofu skeptics, opening them up for a new non-meat protein option that can broaden their culinary horizons. There is no need to make a big deal out of any of these advantages. Just serve the dish and the rest will fall into place.

Put up some rice to cook about 30 minutes before you plan to start the stir-fry. If you get everything ready and in place for the stir-fry itself (including the spicy peanut sauce, which you can whip up easily while the tofu simmers in the first step), the wok-to-table time frame will be less than 10 minutes.

Serve it with a simple vegetable egg drop soup, a platter of orange wedges and a pot of your favorite Chinese tea. And happy Year of the Dog to you all.

Broccoli and tofu in spicy peanut sauce

The first step in this recipe involves simmering firm tofu in boiling water for about 10 minutes and then draining it. This firms up the tofu even further and increases its capacity to hold together and to absorb the delicious sauce. You can do this step up to 3 days ahead if you store the simmered, drained tofu in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator.

1 pound firm tofu

Water

1 pound broccoli

2 tablespoons canola oil or peanut oil

2 cups chopped onion

2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger root

2 tablespoons minced or crushed garlic

3/4 teaspoon salt

Spicy peanut sauce (recipe follows)

1 cup coarsely chopped peanuts, lightly toasted

2 scallions, minced (include both whites and greens)

Cut tofu into 1-inch cubes and place in a medium saucepan. Fill with enough water to cover, then place pan over medium heat and bring water to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Trim and discard tough ends of broccoli, then shave outermost skin of stems with a vegetable peeler. Cut shaved stalks diagonally into thin slices and separate florets into bite-sized pieces.

Place a large wok or skillet over medium heat for about a minute. Add oil and swirl to coat the pan. Turn up heat and add the onion to the hot oil. Stir-fry for about 2 minutes.

Add broccoli, ginger root, garlic and salt. Continue to stir-fry over high heat for another 5 minutes, or until broccoli is bright green and tender-crisp. Stir in tofu and stir-fry for another minute or so. Lower heat to medium and pour in sauce. Stir until everything is well coated. Serve immediately over rice, topped with lightly toasted peanuts and minced scallion. Makes 4 servings.

SPICY PEANUT SAUCE

Water

3/4 cup high-quality peanut butter (smooth variety with no sugar or additives)

6 tablespoons cider vinegar or unseasoned rice vinegar

3 tablespoons soy sauce

3 tablespoons blackstrap molasses or honey

Cayenne

Bring a small pan of water to a boil. Place peanut butter and 3/4 cup boiling water in a medium bowl and mash together until uniform. Whisk in vinegar, soy sauce and molasses or honey. Season to taste with cayenne. Set aside at room temperature until needed for the stir-fry.

Mollie Katzen is the author of “Moosewood Cookbook” (Ten Speed Press) and “Salad People and More Real Recipes: A New Cookbook for Preschoolers & Up” (Tricycle Press).

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