A Stir-Fry from the Palm of My Hand
When I was growing up, in the mornings my grandma would often drop a few coins in the palm of my hand and tell me to go purchase Tao Gua (Tofu), Tao Nge (Mung Bean Sprout), and Guiy Chai (garlic chives) from a mobile market—a pick up truck filled with ingredients. I would return with a bag full of three pieces of tofu cake, mung bean sprouts, and a bunch of garlic chives. Together they made the cheapest and best stir-fry and we ate it about once a week. We would usually stir-fry them later for lunch; if it were for dinner, my grandma would soak the bean sprouts in cold water to keep them fresh in the tropical climate. This was back before we had a refrigerator. When I was at the Asian Market yesterday, I purchased these three ingredients in almost the same quantities as I did then and it came up to $ 2.75, only a few dollars and some coins.
Thais call bean sprouts Thua Ngok (ถั่วงอก), but in my hometown of Phuket we call them Tau Nge, a Phuket Hokkien word. Hokkien is a Chinese dialect spoken by many Chinese throughout Southeast Asia. Tauge, is the word for mung bean sprouts in Chinese Hokkien and in Indonesian and Malaysian languages as well. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Dutch also use taugé for bean sprouts, probably a holdover from the time when they occupied Indonesia.
Mung bean sprouts, tofu and garlic chives are long-time favorite vegetables of Chinese Hokkien cuisine and culture, even though bean sprouts are actually native to Bangladesh.
Green onions or regular chives are usually a good substitute for garlic chives, but in this case I strongly recommend that you use garlic chives in order to maintain the flavors and authenticity of this dish. Garlic chives are available all year round at the Asian Market and it is a perennial herb in the Northwest. You may find other recipes where you will want to use them as well.
The other day when I was dining with a friend, I was so impressed to find a similar dish served at the Tamarind Tree Restaurant in Seattle. Their dish was almost identical in flavor, but instead of tofu, it used shitake mushrooms. I hope when you are at the Tamarind Tree Restaurant, you will please try Nấm xào giá ~ Bean sprout mushroom.
Stir-fried Mung Bean Sprouts and Tofu with Garlic Chives
Phad Tao Gua Tao Nge Phuket
5 minutes total preparation and cooking time, 3 ingredients and less than $3. It is my all time favorite stir-fry.
Heat the wok on high heat, then test it with a few drops of water. If the water evaporates in two seconds, pour in 1 tablespoon canola oil. Cover the surface with oil by using a spatula or other utensil, then spread out tofu in the wok and fry on medium heat until they firm up and turn a golden color. This will take 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
Heat the same wok on high heat and add the remaining canola oil and the garlic; stir until golden, about 10 seconds. Stir in bean sprouts and cook on high heat for 45 seconds to 1 minute, stirring constantly. It will sound really interesting and steaming. It is the moisture from the bean sprouts creating the sounds against the hot wok. You will see steam, but not smoke. Then stir in garlic chives to cook lightly, about 45 seconds. Stir in tofu, soy sauce and sugar. Mix together, then serve promptly with hot steamed jasmine rice.
The bean sprouts should not cook longer than 2 minutes, or they will lost their crunch. This dish is very simple and the flavors depend on having the freshest bean sprouts, tofu and chives—and that is enough! I love this dish because it has a clean and simple flavor and texture. The moisture released from the bean sprouts makes a sauce. If that doesn’t happen, add one or two tablespoons of water.
Another variation of this dish that you might see in Thailand substitutes calamari, prawns or pig blood cake for the tofu.© 2011 Pranee Khruasanit Halvorsen I Love Thai cooking Pranee teaches Thai Cooking classes in the Seattle area. Her website is: I Love Thai cooking.com .
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