This represents my attempt at making something that Ann and Jim can replicate out in the snowy wilderness (hey guys! how's it going?). They requested something that would feature tofu and readily available vegetables, because they live in the middle of nowhere and it's still winter there (not here! I saw ice cream trucks this weekend!), which limits access to a range of exciting foods. I ended up making this and really liking it a lot. I am calling it "Vegetarian Fondue"--the ingredients are very flexible and it's fun to eat for a family meal. Especially a stuck-in-the-woods-why-won't-the-snow-stop family, who might be sort of low on amusements right about now.
Gently wrung one block of extra-firm tofu in a clean dishtowel and cut it up into 1 1/2 " pieces. Dried out the tofu pieces further on the towel. This is important because you are going to fry it and you want as little moisture in as possible. You can also weight it down in a colander for 30 minutes or so, if you have that kind of time. Just get it as dry as you can. I then heated about 4 tablespoons of canola oil in a deep saucepan with a lid (lid is important to avoid burns). When it was really hot I dumped in about half the tofu pieces (needed to do this in two batches) and put the lid over (it's glass, which helps you monitor the progress but not get spattered). Flipped the pieces when they were golden brown on the bottom and waited until both sides were a nice toasty brown. Probably took about about 3-4 minutes per side of tofu. Removed tofu from the pan, set aside to drain on paper towels and repeated this process with the second batch of tofu. When all were done, I salt and peppered them and set them out in a single layer so they wouldn't get soggy.
Put 1/3 cup of peanut butter in a bowl with 2 tablespoons soy sauce, a pinch of red pepper flakes and 2 tablespoons rice vinegar (if no rice vinegar, just use cider vinegar or a white wine vinegar). I also put in about 1 teaspoon of miso paste, but that is optional. Blended everything together with hot water (added a little bit at a time to keep it in control, I probably added about 1/2 cup total) until the consistency is good for dipping--sort of like heavy cream but a little more runny, if you can imagine that. Set aside.
Now the vegetables! When I did this, I thinly sliced 1 red pepper into strips and trimmed a bundle of asparagus. Then I steamed them until each was just cooked through and tender, but still a little crispy. If there is no red pepper or asparagus, you can use any vegetable that is handy, just lightly steam it first. You want a texture that can be picked up and nibbled on, so not too floppy or overcooked. Carrots or zucchini, cut into thin strips would be nice. Broccoli or cauliflower in small floret and with stalks cut into strips would also be tasty. Even cabbage would be good. It is good to use at least 2 vegetables, but if you just have one then just use one.
We put the fried tofu in the center of a big platter and laid the red pepper strips one one side and the asparagus spears on the other. The bowl of peanut sauce goes next to it (I put it in a bowl of hot water to reheat it right before serving so it is nice and warm--like fondue!) and then you can dip the veggies and tofu into the sauce. Delicious. Also, brown or white rice would be a good addition, on the side.