Authentic Asian cooking requires a pantry-load of smelly ingredients.
Fish sauce (also called nuoc mam or nam pla).
Shrimp paste (also known as belacan or blachan, which always makes me think of blecchhh, the sound you make when you're trying to expel a bug that flew into your mouth, which seems totally appropriate when describing the taste of shrimp paste).
Smelly, one and all, but absolutely necessary to achieve the real taste of real Asian food.
And then there's hoisin sauce.
Blissfully not smelly. Not at all.
Sweet, thick and gloppy, just salty enough and completely addictive, hoisin (pronounced HOY sin) is made from sweet potato, fermented soybeans, sesame seeds, garlic, chile pepper, wheat flour, salt and sugar (and in most cases, sugar is actually the first ingredient listed).
Known as Chinese barbecue sauce or Peking Duck sauce, hoisin is both a dipping sauce on its own, and an ingredient in dishes like pork and broccoli stir fry, barbecued chicken, snow peas and red pepper, salad with hoisin vinaigrette, Asian-style ribs and Chino-Latino wings.
Look for hoisin in the Asian foods section of your regular grocery store; mine sells the Lee Kum Kee brand in handy-dandy squeeze bottles for less than $2.00 -- easy to use, and lasts forever in the fridge.
If you can't find hoisin in your market, here are two suggested substitutes that you can whiz up in your blender. I haven't tried either one, because I'm never without a bottle of the real thing, so let me know how these work for you:
- 3/4 cup pitted prunes + 2 cups of water + 1 tablespoon crushed garlic, then add 1-1/2 tablespoons soy sauce + 1-1/2 tablespoons dry sherry.
- 1/4 cup soy sauce + 1/4 cup plum sauce + 1 teaspoon flour + a pinch of five-spice powder + a pinch of garlic powder + sugar or honey or agave nectar, to taste. Of course, if you can find plum sauce, you can probably find real hoisin, too.
With the official start of barbecue season just a few days away, why not make a big batch of hoisin barbecue sauce tonight?
It's delicious. And it smells great.
Grilled tofu with soba noodles
Inspired by several recipes in Nina Simonds' Asian Wraps, this dish can be served warm, at room temperature, or cold. It's perfect for picnics. Serves 6.
2 lbs extra firm tofu
For the marinade:
3/4 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup rice wine or sake
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1-1/2 Tbsp finely minced garlic
Five 10-inch bamboo skewers, soaked in water to cover for an hour, or other skewers
For the vegetables:
1 Tbsp peanut or canola oil
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp chili paste with garlic
1 small onion, peeled and cut into chunks
1 red bell pepper, cut into chunks
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into chunks
1/2 lb fresh snow peas, ends snapped and strings removed
1-1/2 Tbsp rice wine or sake
For the sauce, mix together:
3-1/2 Tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce
1-1/2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 lb soba, cooked according to package directions and drained
Cut tofu into 1-inch slices and place in a bowl. Add 2/3 of marinade to the tofu, tossing gently to coat. Let sit for an hour at room temperature. Thread tofu onto skewers, reserving remaining marinade in a bowl for basting.
Prepare a medium-hot fire for grilling, or preheat broiler. You might want to brush your grill with some canola or peanut oil, or spray with canola spray (do this before you heat the grill.) Place skewered tofu about 3 inches from heat source and cook 8-9 minutes on each side, turning once, basting occasionally with the marinade. Remove tofu from skewers, cut into 1-inch cubes, and set aside.
Heat wok over high heat. Add oil. Add minced garlic, chili paste, onion and bell peppers, and toss lightly for 1 minute. Add snow peas and rice wine; continue cooking, tossing lightly, until snow peas are tender, 2-3 minutes. Add sauce, and toss to coat.
Place cooked soba in a serving bowl. Spoon vegetables on top. Arrange tofu cubes on top and pour the reserved barbecue marinade over everything.
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