Sunday, September 21, 2014

Variations: Tofu Vermicelli

Friday was my Sabbath day when I lived in Houston. Friday meant a day to myself, out of my neighborhood and into a different part of the city. It meant exploring, getting lost in the clearance section, the Women’s Studies section and the Metaphysics section of Half Price Books. It meant trips to Trader Joe’s to buy Dr. Bronners soap and my very own olive oil that none of my housemates were allowed to use because I wrote my name on it immediately after I got home. Fridays meant taking the 80 out of the neighborhood and down to either the Preston train station or to Walker so I could catch the 81 or 82 to Montrose (If you’re new to Houston and take public transportation, take notes!).
Towards the end of my time in Houston, I frequented a Vietnamese sub-shop that I never caught the name of. I always referred to it as, “That place that Rosliand and Van go to get 2.50 subs!” That’s right! Two co-workers introduced me and a couple housemates to this restaurant where they serve really simple and beautiful Vietnamese dishes that are pretty accessible to mainstream American culture-Vermicelli, Pho, and Banh Mi, which is like a Vietnamese po-boy sandwich-and all of it ranged from 2.50-7.00. This was an amazing place to go for someone like me who was living on a seventy dollar a month stipend for personal items-most of which I spent on good food and coffee. 
I fell in love with the “Vietnamese sub shop were they sell 2.50 Vietnamese subs”, and so when I got back to the woods of North Carolina where there were no bus routes, no Half Priced Books and no Vietnamese sub shops (at least as good as the one in Houston), I taught myself how to make them at home. 
Pictured above is my version of their Vermicelli. When I ordered it in Houston it would come out in a huge white bowl filled with bean threads, huge chunks of marinated tofu, lettuce, thinly sliced carrots, cucumber, cilantro and chilled broth. 
Today I made a much smaller version with a lot of variations based on what I had in the fridge. It has vegetable broth, bean threads, white button mushrooms, tofu, roughly chopped cabbage and cilantro. 
It’s one of my go-to dishes and I’m going to show you how to make it as well! It’s really simple and the ingredients are usually pretty easy to find. 
What you’ll need:
Bean thread (or rice noodles if you prefer those/are what you find instead of bean thread)
This is very similar to rice noodles and can be found in the “Oriental/Hispanic” sections of your generic grocery store. 
Sesame Oil
Can also be found in the “Oriental/Hispanic” section of your neighborhood grocery store. 
Mushroom sauce
Would be found by the sesame oil and bean threads. 
Extra firm tofu
Mushrooms (any kind you like)
One lime
Vegetable broth
Coconut oil
What You Do:
Bean threads usually are packed in sections. For this dish, I used one section (or handful) of bean threads and began to boil them in vegetable broth. I added about a teaspoon and a quarter of sesame oil and mushroom sauce for extra flavoring. While that’s boiling, you also want to add the juice from one ripe lime. You can do this by cutting the lime in half and squeezing all of the juice you can with your hands into the pot. 
As for the tofu and the mushrooms, I get out my grandmother’s iron skillet, slap on about a tablespoon of coconut oil and heat the stove to about medium heat. For this portion, I usually cut up four fairly thin slices of tofu and place them in the skillet, along with two hand fulls of mushrooms roughly chopped. I like my food nice and crispy, so I leave it on the stove till I see that everything is golden brown. 
After your threads are finished and your broth tastes more than acceptable to you, pour your threads into a bowl along with the broth. I usually don’t put in more broth than noodles. This isn’t supposed to be a soup. 
After your tofu and mushrooms are finished, place them on top of the threads, then chop up whatever vegetables you’d like and throw them in too. For this I like to go pretty simple and just use cabbage and cilantro. 
This dish is really good with some sort of chili sauce, whether that be Sriracha or chili paste.
*Traditionally this dish is made with chilled broth. That’s certainly an option if you’d like. If you want to do that, just cook your broth beforehand and cool it once you've got everything to taste.

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