Food + Drink

Super-quick tofu & asparagus.


Today I was talking to my friend Janet about being tired after work and not feeling like cooking, and I followed up with a bit of my usual bragging about how I can make a decent dinner in as little as 5-10 minutes (sometimes even that seems like too much, though, which is why Chinese delivery exists). It’s true! I can make dinner that fast! And I do it all the time, especially if Evan has to work late or run an errand in the evening.

I hate to waste food, so my first priority with quickie-dinners is to use up scraps. I never use a whole block of tofu when I’m making a recipe, and if I put the extra back in the fridge, it inevitably goes bad before I get to it. I’ve learned a trick, though, and that’s to freeze it! Cut it into strips, press out the excess water, put it in a baggie or container, and stick it in the fridge. It’ll turn a weird yellow color when it’s frozen, but that’s okay. Just make sure you take it out of the fridge with enough time to defrost before you want to use it! The coolest part about freezing tofu is that it totally changes the texture—it goes from being soft and wet to being kind of chewy and spongy. You’ve probably had tofu like that before in restaurants and wondered how to make yours taste like that. Now you know! It’s awesome.

I’m also a rice-hoarder. When we get delivery food, there’s always about double the amount of rice included in the bag than we could ever use in one sitting, so I save the leftovers. If I’m cooking rice, I make extras. If you know you’ll be eating the rice within a few days, you can put it in the fridge—otherwise, freeze it. It’s so nice to have rice all ready to go when you want it.

So here’s what I made tonight, since I was smart and remembered to take the tofu out this morning. It literally took 10 minutes, and only about 5 of those minutes were spent doing anything related to preparing the meal.

Serves as many as you need to

extra-firm tofu (cut, pressed, frozen and defrosted)
leftover rice
sesame oil
Japanese 7-spice (or some kind of spicy seasoning and sesame seeds)
Sriachca sauce

Put some sesame oil in a cast iron pan and put it on a medium-high burner. While the pan is heating up, wash and dry the asparagus. When the pan is hot, drop in the tofu strips and the asparagus—I like to do everything in one pan. Sprinkle with 7-spice.

While the tofu and asparagus are cooking, heat up the rice in the microwave (I know, I know…you can do it on the stove, too, but I usually put it in the microwave in the same bowl I plan to eat out of to cut down on dishes). Stir in a tiny drizzle of sesame oil and set aside.

Flip the tofu and asparagus after about three minutes. Keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn. When the tofu is nicely browned on both sides and the asparagus is bright green with a little bit of char, slide everything on top of your rice. Serve with a healthy squeeze of Sriracha sauce, and maybe an extra sprinkle of 7-spice.

DONE. Ten minutes from fridge to table, one pan, and one bowl. (See?)

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  • Reply Jo March 2, 2011 at 9:47 pm

    Okay, ignorant question: when you say “press the tofu”, what exactly do you mean? Stick it in a colander lined with cheesecloth and top it with a weight? Press it between two thicknesses of dishtowel with your hands? I know it’s to get the excess moisture out, but I don’t know how to do that.

    Thanks. I’m tofu-impaired thanks to a difficult childhood with quasi-hippies.

    • Anna @ D16 March 2, 2011 at 9:50 pm

      Sorry Jo, I should have been more specific! I usually lay the strips on a tea towel or paper towel, fold the towel over the strips, and press with my hand for 10-15 seconds. Nothing crazy!

  • Reply erin March 2, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    Thanks for the freezing tips! I am the worst when it comes to food being forgotten in the fridge. I actually just threw out some left over tofu I had forgotten about earlier today.

  • Reply momo March 2, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    Reads absolutely delicious! I have tofu and asparagus in the fridge, will improvise the other bits for dinner tonight.

    I made an insanely tasty and simple vegan-friendly salad for lunch 2 hours ago that I am still enthusing about, Anna. Here it is:

    Mixed beans (canned ones – red beans, chickpeas, and white beans)
    Little olive oil
    Sunflower seeds (a couple of teaspoons)
    Squeezed lemon
    Chopped tomato
    Chopped parsley
    A few random raw nuts left in bottom of jar
    Little bit of chilli powder

    all mixed and eaten as ‘wraps’ in cos lettuce leaves. SOOOO tasty. Could’ve done without the chilli power and random nuts.

    • Anna @ D16 March 2, 2011 at 10:07 pm

      That sounds so yummy! I always forget that I can make bean salads.

  • Reply Gretchen March 2, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    I think this would work most excellently with broccolini–yes?

    • Anna @ D16 March 2, 2011 at 10:06 pm

      Absolutely! Or any type of green, really.

      (Or with rice noodles instead of rice, which is how I made it for Evan when he got home!)

  • Reply Melissa March 2, 2011 at 10:57 pm

    This is my FABORITE quick vegan dinner! I eat this at least once a week! So satisfying, so quick and easy. Sesame oil & Sriracha are a MUST!

  • Reply Jane @ The Borrowed Abode March 2, 2011 at 11:40 pm

    Awesome tips – love it! I always wondered about freezing tofu, and actually I prefer the chewy texture! Can’t wait to try this ASAP.

  • Reply thisismycat March 3, 2011 at 1:11 am

    What is that – monster asparagus!? By far the longest asparagus I’ve seen in my entire life. Everything’s bigger in the USA…

    • Anna @ D16 March 3, 2011 at 6:33 am

      Actually it’s pencil-thin, very young asparagus. If anything, it’s on the small side. I think you’re just reacting to it being served in a small bowl!

  • Reply meenal @ maison marigold March 3, 2011 at 6:31 am

    Wow that sounds too easy for somehing that looks so delicious…I’m always delighted to spot any veg/vegan recipes that are easy to make…I’m sure to try this one asap. Found your blog today Anna…love it!! xx meenal

  • Reply Kathleen March 3, 2011 at 8:18 am

    I’ve been upping my tofu intake lately. Last night I made a “green protein bowl” – it was too ugly to photograph but basically it was spinach/garlic/walnut pesto with roasted mushrooms and broccoli and sauteed tofu over quinoa. I felt like some sort of earth-loving Popeye after eating it.

  • Reply Kellee March 3, 2011 at 8:34 am

    THIS is literally amazing and is now precisely what I’m having for dinner. Thank you Anna!

    And YES – I have wondered/researched/asked around/sobbed over the mystery of how tofu in restaurants has that texture. And now I know. The relief, the excitement.

    I will promptly be freezing 90% of all my tofu from now on.

    • Kellee March 4, 2011 at 5:49 am

      Made it almost to recipe and it was yum! Only difference: I didn’t have the required spices so made a simple teriyaki sauce by heating some soy sauce with a little sugar. Delish 🙂

  • Reply jennifer March 3, 2011 at 9:17 am

    delicious! I just ate my first asparagus of the year last weekend and it was great.
    wondering, am i alone in having an impossible time finding chinese take-out that doesn’t use chicken stock in the sauces of their veg dishes?? i’ve recently moved and it’s a bummer.

  • Reply mommy March 3, 2011 at 9:43 am

    Thanks for the tofu squeezing tip. It’s the wetness that can make tofu so bland. Do you like tempeh, which is also quite firm? It was very popular in the 70s (my California hippie days) and I had almost forgotten about it. I wonder if there is any evidence that soy increases the risk for breast cancer?

    • Anna @ D16 March 3, 2011 at 1:35 pm

      Wait, haven’t we had this conversation a few times before? 😉

      I wrote this in a comment a couple of months ago, and I’m just going to copy & paste it since I’m feeling lazy!

      Sue, I’ve used rice milk in cooking and on cereal, and it’s fine for that, but I can’t honestly say that I’ve ever tried to drink a glass of it…so I’m not sure I can really give you advice on that. I will say, though, that many tastes are acquired, and something that tastes “weird” to you at first will likely taste more normal as you have it more frequently. Maybe you’ve experienced that kind of thing with regular milk, like transitioning from whole milk to skim milk—you know what I mean? After a while, the alternative starts tasting better.

      From an allergen standpoint, I do think rice milk is probably your best option. As I’m sure you know, rice is extremely well tolerated by most people, and obviously your granddaughter’s sensitivities wouldn’t be an issue. Give it a try. You might want to experiment with different brands, since not all foods are created equal.

      I’m not a scientist or nutritionist, so I hesitate to give you advice on the potential risks of soy milk (or cow’s milk, for that matter) from any kind of authoritative standpoint, but I can speak anecdotally about it. First of all, it’s very easy to fall victim to extremist reports about anything, and of course the media is determined to make us pay attention and tune in/buy magazines/click on websites at any cost, and an alarming headline or mass-forwarded email is a great way to scare people—and to make money off of them via ad revenue. (My goodness, am I cynical or what?!) Now, with that in mind…

      Dr. Andrew Weil (whose opinion I trust) has written several pieces about soy over the years that I think you may find informative. He’s done a very good job of breaking down exactly what we do and don’t want in soy products, where the concern you mentioned stems from, and how much soy is good for you to consume on a daily basis:

      What you want to avoid are modified soy proteins and products containing non-organic soybeans. If you avoid heavily processed foods (become a label-reader—you’ll be shocked by what’s in the most simple-seeming products!), you’re already well on your way to eliminating a lot of bad stuff from your diet. If you buy soy-based products (tofu, soy milk, tempeh, miso, edamame, etc.), check the label to make sure they’re made from organic, non-GMO (non-genetically modified) soybeans. This is very important.

      Now, of course, on the flip side, you could start doing some research into the links between the consumption of dairy products (and animal products in general), animal fats, and various type of cancers and other diseases. I honestly think it’s a little silly to worry about soy milk when the health risks associated with animal products are so much greater…but I do realize that’s a pretty intensive subject and really very subjective and absolutely up for debate on both sides of the argument, and the comment field on a blog post might not be the right place to do it. 😉

      At the end of the day, here’s where I come down on just about everything food-wise: Eat as much whole food as you can. Stay as close to unprocessed, source ingredients as possible. Read labels. So much of what we wind up consuming in too-large quantities gets into our bodies by way of “hidden” ingredients. The less we consume food products that have been processed, preserved, altered, and packaged, the healthier we’ll ALL be.

  • Reply Jules March 3, 2011 at 10:00 am

    Yum. I’ve had something like this twice this week, but my go-to green is lacinato kale. I can’t get enough of it right now! My favorite way (this week) is to saute it in some water until wilted, follow up with a teaspoon of oil to give it gloss, color, and flavor, and then toss all of it in a scant amount of Annie’s Goddess dressing. I eat an entire head of lacinato kale this way and, might as well be honest, could probably eat another half head.

  • Reply anne b. March 3, 2011 at 11:55 am

    oh, that sounds and looks delicious!
    a quick and tasty meal I often make is an adaptation of heidi swansons Sushi Bowl – I cook some brown rice, then put some toasted sesame seeds in a large bowl, add some crumbled up nori seaweed, some grilled/sautéed (I just cook them in a dry pan for a few minutes) cubes of firm tofu – add the rice, 2 teaspoons of brown rice vinegar and 2 teaspoons of shoyu soy sauce, and whatever veggies are around. I like it with avocado, or some cucumber, and drink green rice tea alongside.
    at my local health food shop, there are different kinds of tofu available, also firm tofu. that’s in the netherlands, though, maybe it’s different in the states?

    • Anna @ D16 March 3, 2011 at 11:57 am

      Yes, you can buy all different kinds of tofu here, too (that’s why I specified extra-firm in the recipe!)—soft, firm, silken, etc. 🙂

      Your sushi bowl sounds delicious!

    • anne b. March 4, 2011 at 5:32 am

      oops, re-reading my comment it comes across a little condescending (“can your shops be as good as ours?”) and un-noticing of your specification of firm tofu.
      I was just thinking of my favorite brand of tofu, Taifun, especially their Japanese Style tofu, and hoping you could also get that in the US – but fearing you couldn’t.

  • Reply Holyoke Home March 3, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    No way?! You can freeze tofu? I wonder if it would work if you froze it WITH some flavoring in it – like sesame oil and ginger…..hmmm…..

    • Anna @ D16 March 3, 2011 at 1:26 pm

      You could definitely try that! And yes, it freezes beautifully. 🙂

  • Reply L March 3, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    That reminds me: years ago, a roommate froze a block of leftover tofu (without pressing it, I think). A few months later, I was making “Clean Out The Freezer Special Soup” and tossed in the tofu along with bits and bats of veggies, etc. After it simmered a while, I found the tofu, all bright yellow and spongy — and could NOT figure out why Maggie (who was long gone) had carefully put a sponge in a plastic bag in the freezer, so that it ended up in my soup.

    Thanks for the giggle!

    • Anna @ D16 March 3, 2011 at 1:39 pm

      HAH! Oh, that’s hilarious! 😀

  • Reply L March 3, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    Oh, excellent recipe BTW; I can’t wait to try it.

  • Reply kim b March 3, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    replace the tofu with samon and this is my 10yr son’s favorite meal. I think I’ll have to make it to night.

  • Reply Rebekah March 3, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    Have you ever tried to deep fry tofu? I’ve had it at a Thai place, the texture was really firm and it had alomst a breaded texture, it was served in peanut sauce and curry with fried basil leaves. Dam, I now have saliva on my keyboard….

    • Anna @ D16 March 3, 2011 at 5:23 pm

      Oh yeah, absolutely!! I’m not going to be deep-frying anything at home, but I love getting it when I’m out!

  • Reply Jenny March 3, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    Wah! I love it! This is my kinda cooking! 5-7 minutes is about all I have time and energy for!
    I’ve put your blog on a handout for a workshop I’m doing on environmental vegetarianism – “great decor and regular fab recipes”.

    You’re going to write a book one day, I hope.

    • Anna @ D16 March 3, 2011 at 7:45 pm

      A book! No, silly, that’s why I have a blog. 🙂

  • Reply me @{life or something...} March 3, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    me + sriracha sauce = true love.

  • Reply Suzen March 4, 2011 at 7:46 am

    Hi Anna! I have to refer back to a previous food post…kale crisps and squash…and tell you that my husband really dislikes kale. I, however, do not and since I’m the primary cook, he’s a bit out of luck at times. Anyway, I made the little critters just like you said and HE. LOVED. THEM! So did I! Thanks for that.

    Also, I like to take the tofu you buy in bulk and break it into rough pieces about the size of an unshelled almond. Fry in oil until golden, turning as they cook. Then put ’em into a bowl, add raw chopped garlic (and plenty of it,) and drizzle Tamari over. You can use right away or freeze, as you say. These are actually good on a salad with some toasted sesame seeds, sundry vegetables, and Old Cape Cod Toasted Sesame Soy & Ginger dressing.

    Also, have you tried that Purely Decadent Coconut Milk ice cream? Lord have mercy! They also have a soy one, I saw yesterday.

    Have a great weekend! Suzen

    • Anna @ D16 March 4, 2011 at 8:51 am

      Suzen, I have tried both of those ice creams, and while they’re certainly acceptable, they’re not my favorites! I greatly prefer Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss ice creams…and, if I’m feeling spendy, Organic Nectars. WAY better. Like, better than dairy-based ice cream. The ultimate ice cream, though, comes from a little shop here in NYC, Lula’s Sweet Apothecary. You’ve never had anything like it in your life. It’s like pure, frozen heaven. I have dreams about it.

      Anyway, enough ice cream talk—I’m definitely going to try your tofu recipe! That sounds really good. I love sesame seeds!

      p.s. GO KALE! 🙂

  • Reply Becky March 4, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    When I need to make dinner super fast, I usually make spaghetti, actually. I love the stuff and make a huge batch every week, and then if I don’t feel like cooking, we make pasta and top with the leftover sauce. Another way I like to be creative is with polenta and some type of vegetable with a sauce. It’s amazing how a lot of people think that cooking dinner has to be so expensive and time-consuming. It’s really all in what you eat!

  • Reply Melanie March 4, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    Nice! I really love the pencil-thin asparagus, too. 🙂

    And just to add another tip on rice-hoarding: freezing rice! Make a huge batch of rice in a rice cooker or pot, cool it a little, then wrap individual portions in plastic wrap and freeze. When you need it, just remove the plastic wrap and microwave/defrost. It honestly saves me so much time if I have to make lunch the night before, and makes the best quick lunch ever: rice balls and miso soup.

    More info here:

  • Reply Lonely Wife Project March 4, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    I’ve never tried freezing my tofu before. So excited to get that chewy texture!

  • Reply Julie at Velvet & Shag Vintage March 5, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    I never even thought about freezing rice…good to know! I just went vegan at the beginning of the year, so your vegan dish posts are very helpful to me. I tried your kale chips last week, but I ended up burning them. I’m definitely going to have to try those again because they look so awesome in your post.

  • Reply Mary Maru March 6, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    Your recipe posts are inspiring me to be more healthy…which isn’t always so easy. I also shared your kale chips recipe with a friend who raved about how good it turned out. I love it, too!

  • Reply Erin March 6, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    This looks delicious! I LOVE quick-to-make vegan recipes!

  • Reply Kat March 6, 2011 at 8:37 pm

    Now I feel a bit stupid….I looked up Sriachca Sc. only to discover that it’s what us Canadians refer to as “Rooster Sauce”. In fact I didn’t know that anyone called it anything else! -And I was equally disappointed that “Rooster” was not mentioned anywhere at all in the wikipedia article! Thank-you, Anna for widening my horizons.


    • Anna @ D16 March 7, 2011 at 8:00 am

      I’ve heard people call it that here, too, Kat…but maybe they were all Canadian. 😉

  • Reply lynn March 6, 2011 at 11:15 pm

    have you seen the cookbook from angelica’s kitchen? it’s one of my fave veggie restaurants in the city and their cookbook is so fab. the baked tofu recipe in there is killer and i love to take leftovers for lunch the next day, great in a sandwich even…

    • Anna @ D16 March 7, 2011 at 3:32 pm

      I’ve been to the restaurant several times, and while it’s not one of my favorites, they do have a few good offerings! 🙂 I’ll take a look at the cookbook, thanks.

  • Reply gone to the beach March 7, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    Your food making principles are good – just as same as I have. “Don’t throw food away….use ingredients in a economical way”, the list is endless. If I wan’t food quickly – hmm, let me think, what food I’ll make—–Chicken, perhaps. And I use oven- “bag” to cook, so chicken wont’t dry so much. In winter I like salmon soup, karelian hot pot, chicken, pasta. Greetings from Finland……

  • Reply Niamh March 7, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    Wow this dish sounds amazing, will definitely be trying it for my dinner this week. Thanks Anna! Just a word of caution on the re-heated rice. I have a few friends that got very bad food poisoning from re-heated rice. You have to be very careful when re-heating and storing rice.. the food standards agency in England has this to say about it..

    ” I’ve heard that reheating rice can cause food poisoning. Is this true?
    It’s true that you could get food poisoning from eating reheated rice. But it’s not actually the reheating that’s the problem – it’s the way the rice has been stored before reheating.

    Uncooked rice can contain spores of Bacillus cereus, bacteria that can cause food poisoning. When the rice is cooked, the spores can survive. Then, if the rice is left standing at room temperature, the spores will germinate into bacteria. These bacteria will multiply and may produce toxins (poisons) that cause vomiting or diarrhoea. Reheating the rice won’t get rid of these toxins.

    So, the longer cooked rice is left at room temperature, the more likely it is that bacteria, or the toxins they produce, could stop the rice being safe to eat.

    It’s best to serve rice when it has just been cooked. If that isn’t possible, cool the rice as quickly as possible (ideally within one hour) and keep it in the fridge for no more than one day until reheating.

    Remember that when you reheat any food, you should always check that it’s steaming hot all the way through, and avoid reheating more than once.”

    Anyway hope I dont come across as a killjoy but said I better mention it as I’ve seen the effects of contaminated rice.. not pretty!

    Really love your vegan food posts. I’m making a conscious effort to eat vegetarian and vegan these days and your posts provide great healthy foodie inspiration keep up the amazing work 🙂

    • Anna @ D16 March 7, 2011 at 2:23 pm

      Niamh, that sounds like fairly standard advice when it comes to any kind of cooked food, though, right? That’s pretty much how I treat all of my food, not just rice. It would never occur to me to leave cooked foods out on the counter or reheat things multiple times.

      Anyway, if it’s a concern for you beyond that, I suggest freezing your leftover rice! That’s what I do, and it works quite well.

  • Reply Lena March 7, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    You like drops, right?

    • Anna @ D16 March 7, 2011 at 2:54 pm

      That’s great! I think I have to enter. 🙂

  • Reply Niamh March 7, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    I agree, sound advice for any food. I am a huge lover of leftovers and never throw out anything if I can re-use it. Its just you mentioned using rice within a few days.. I had a friend who was very ill from eating rice that had been in the fridge for 2 days and I’ve heard rice is one of the biggest offenders for food poisoning. Anyway I’m sure your well versed on good food hygiene but said I’d mention it as alarm bells went off when you mentioned eating after a few days. It just needs to be handled with care is all and thought it may be worth flagging. Just from friends experience its not worth taking chances with..

    • Anna @ D16 March 7, 2011 at 3:28 pm

      I must say I’m quite perplexed by/skeptical of the caution to use the rice within one day even if it’s been cooled and stored properly. I’m not concerned about refrigerated rice that’s over a day old, personally (there are far greater risks lurking in the fridge and in the cupboards!), but as I said…if you’re concerned beyond basic food handling practices, rice really does freeze quite well.

    • Niamh March 7, 2011 at 4:02 pm

      Sorry to keep quoting the food standards agency but it is a common concern..

      “Cool leftovers as quickly as possible (ideally within one to two hours) and then store them in the fridge. Eat any leftovers within two days, except for cooked rice, which you should eat within one day to help avoid food poisoning”

      This is the reason I flagged it… hope it helps clear up my pressing the point..

    • Anna @ D16 March 7, 2011 at 4:09 pm

      It isn’t that I don’t understand or haven’t read the article and quotes you posted, Niamh, it’s that I disagree—and that I could quite easily counter with literally dozens of other health/food-related articles that are contradictory. You are free to do as you wish, of course, and this is why I recommend freezing your rice if you are at all concerned.

      I’d suggest taking a look at the rice cooling and storage guidelines recommended by the USA Rice Federation for clearer details:

      These are essentially the guidelines that I follow, and have no hesitation or concern in doing so.

  • Reply Niamh March 7, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    I must admit I had never seen guidelines otherwise. This is news to me and good news. I was always afraid of rice having heard the horror stories. I suppose we all must follow the guidelines that we are comfortable with. As a mother of small children I feel I must err on the side of caution. Informative reading though.. thanks

  • Reply Desiree March 8, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    I was reading Holly’s Facebook post about you contributing to her book and so I came here.. my heart (or it might be my stomach) made a little jump seeing the combination of Tofu and green asparagus! Both my favorite food 😉
    I am so gonna try this.

    For some reason I keep half of the tofu fresh by changing the water every day and the still sometimes forget to eat them the third day…. gosh!


  • Reply Liane March 8, 2011 at 5:04 pm

    yep. i totally do this with my tofu. the texture is so much nicer. and i am the same way re. waste. must not do it!

  • Reply Doorknobs And Daiquiris March 8, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    Ummm… dinners like this in 5-10 minutes? I think you’d better start posting more recipes!

  • Reply jessica rae March 15, 2011 at 8:22 am

    Seriously! I have never heard of pressing tofu or freezing it… ever- and have ALWAYS wondered why tofu is so much better and less mushy bla (even though I still eat copious amounts) at home!!

    This is the best! Thank you ever so much!!

    xo Jessica Rae
    {lovely ugly design}

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