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  • Writer's pictureellencdonker


A weeknight vegetarian dinner to satisfy everyone

As a “food person” and a mom, I get asked a lot of cooking questions from fellow parents. A subject that comes up again and again is vegetarian cooking. Either one member of the family has decided to start eating vegetarian or whoever is cooking just wants to cut down on the amount of meat everyone’s consuming and is looking for meatless entrees.

Tofu is an obvious plant-based protein choice. It’s nutritious, economical and easy to find. But it gets a bad rap for being flavorless. I didn’t start loving to cook tofu until I tried the method which you’ll read in the recipe below. The marinade is flavorful and the outside is crispy with the help of cornstarch. You can (and should!) marinate the tofu ahead of time, up to 24 hours in advance.

I’m married to a “meat & potatoes” midwesterner who would never choose the vegetarian option if given the choice. This crispy tofu stir-fry with Thai basil is one of his favorites. I don’t think it dawned on him, when I made it the first time, that it was indeed “meatless,” because it’s hearty and doesn’t feel as though anything is missing. Who wouldn’t love a heaping saucy stir-fry piled onto steamed rice or noodles?

Thai basil is a variety of basil you’ll find in South East Asian cuisine and has a slight minty flavor to it. If you’ve ever eaten Vietnamese pho you’ve likely had it. You can find it at Asian grocers – I buy mine at Gold Valley in Springfield or Kam Man in East Hanover. It’s worth seeking out if you’ve never tried it, but if you can’t find it, regular basil will be just fine.

Recipe developer, cookbook author, food stylist and local mom Olivia Mack McCool lives in Maplewood. For more of her work and recipes, check out her website and follow along on Instagram @oliviamackmccool.

Crispy Tofu Stir-fry with Thai Basil

Serves 4

Crispy Tofu:

1 (14 ounce) block of firm tofu

2 tablespoons neutral oil

1 tablespoon soy sauce

½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil

¼ teaspoon granulated garlic (optional)

1 heaping tablespoon cornstarch

Stir-fry Sauce:

1 cup low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

¼ cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

2 large cloves garlic, grated or minced

1 (2-inch) piece of ginger, grated or minced

1 tablespoon cornstarch


¼ cup neutral oil

3 bell or frying peppers (about 1 pound), seeded and sliced

6 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced

1 medium white onion, thinly sliced

1 cup Thai basil leaves (you can use regular basil if you can’t find Thai)

Steamed rice or rice noodles, for serving


  1. Make the crispy tofu: Heat the oven to 400°. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Drain the tofu and then place on a few stacked sheets of paper towel. Gently press to remove some of the water. Cut into cubes (approx. 1 inch). In a large (ideally shallow and wide) bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon neutral oil, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, ½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil, and ¼ teaspoon granulated garlic. Add the cubed tofu and toss to coat very gently. (A rubber spatula works well here.) Let this sit for anywhere from 10 minutes up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. Sprinkle the cornstarch over cubes and toss again gently. Place the cubes on the prepared sheet pan, spreading them out evenly and bake for 10 minutes. Flip each cube over and bake for another 10 minutes, until the cubes are golden brown on the edges. Set aside.

  2. Make the stir-fry sauce: Combine all the stir-fry sauce ingredients in a large measuring cup or bowl and whisk well. Set aside. This can be done up to 12 hours in advance and kept in the refrigerator.

  3. Heat a large non-stick skillet over high heat and add ¼ cup of neutral oil. Once oil is hot, add in the peppers, onions and mushrooms. Let cook, stirring every so often, for about 8 minutes, until the veggies are soft but still have some bite. Whisk the stir-fry sauce to redistribute its ingredients. Lower the heat to medium low and add in the basil leaves and stir-fry sauce. Cook for 30 seconds until the basil is wilted and a sauce has formed. Turn off the heat. Add in the crispy tofu and toss just to combine.

  4. Serve immediately over steamed rice or cooked rice noodles.

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