One of my favourite weeknight dinners is stir-fried tofu with colourful veggies, noodles and heaps of chilli. This is a twist on Chilli Paneer – that Indian vegetarian restaurant favourite that has found its way onto wedding menus and dinner tables at home. As much as I love paneer, I find it a little too heavy to have with noodles or rice – this is where tofu noodle bowls come to the rescue.
They might look quite ordinary but the sauce packs a real punch, seasoning the golden tofu and noodles perfectly. It’s made using large red chillies, garlic, spring onions, soy sauce, star anise and brown sugar. A combo of ingredients I always have in the house. I throw in any vegetables I have in the fridge – usually a mix of broccoli, mushrooms, beansprouts, mange tout or French beans.
My special touch to these is to add crispy okra strips and fried Thai basil leaves. They add the most beautiful crunch and are a delicious way of getting your okra fix as part of a dish that’s not curry. To make them, slice okra into long, thin strips, toss in a little cornflour and allow to sit for five minutes. Plunge them into hot oil and fry for 2-3 minutes until crispy and slightly golden. Try not to move them too much in the first minute to give the cornflour time to set on the okra.
To achieve a pretty red colour, I add in a couple of tablespoons of Sriracha (Thai chilli sauce made with dried red chillies and garlic). If you haven’t tried it before – where have you been? It’s the ultimate intense chilli sauce for adding instant flavour. I add it to mac and cheese, toasties, masala chips and even potato curry. It’s almost like Gujarati lasan vari chutney but in sauce form; A squidge of it in plain natural yoghurt will give you the fastest ever sauce for bhajia and samosa chaat. You can buy it in the Asian section of most supermarkets now. Look for the squeezy bottle with a rooster on the front. Even my parents, who are life-long advocates of Tabasco now prefer it.
I used Shanghai noodles here but you could just as easily use rice noodles, udon or even fresh ramen noodles. If noodles aren’t your thing, skip them and serve the stir-fried tofu and veggies with steamed jasmine rice. Garnish with the fried okra and Thai basil, then devour.
Chilli-Garlic Tofu Noodle Bowls with Crispy Okra
For the chilli paste:
1 large red chilli
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1-inch piece ginger, peeled
3 large spring onions, trimmed and quartered
3 tbsp Sriracha
2 tbsp brown sugar
Juice and zest 1 lime
For the stir fry:
1 tbsp oil
1 star anise
100g broccoli florets
Handful mushrooms, sliced
40g mange tout
1 large red chilli
4 tbsp light soy sauce
200g golden tofu puffs
3 tbsp Sriracha
200g cooked noodles
Salt to taste
For the crispy okra:
100g okra, sliced into long thin strips
1 tsp cornflour
1. First make the crispy okra and thai basil. Cut the okra into long, thing strips, place onto a plate and dust over the cornflour. Stir to combine and set aside for 5 minutes.
2. Heat the oil in a pan. Once hot, turn the heat down and very carefully add in the Thai basil. It will crackle and spit in the first 30 seconds so stand right back. Be super careful even once it stops crackling. Fry until deep green and crispy. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and place onto a place lined with kitchen paper.
3. Next, turn the heat up on the oil again and add in the okra. Don’t move them around in the first minute in order to let the cornflour set. Cook for 3-4 minutes, then remove and place onto the kitchen paper with the Thai basil. Set aside.
4. Blend together all the ingredients for the chilli paste.
5. Heat the oil in the wok, add the chilli paste and star anise. Cook on a medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring all the time.
6. Add in the broccoli, soy sauce and extra Sriracha. Next, add the rest of the vegetables except the beansprouts and chilli. Stir fry for 3-4 minutes on a high heat. Add the tofu puffs and sauté for another few minutes, adding a little water if it seems dry.
7. Add the cooked noodles, beansprouts and chilli, stirring to combine. Stir fry for 3-4 minutes and remove from the heat.
8. Serve immediately, topped with crispy okra and Thai basil.