We never could decide what (if any) prayers to say, what language to say them in, or what gender pronouns to use. For a stretch of time my “Shabbat crew” was a mish mash of religions (Catholics, atheists, Buddhists, etc) and religiosity (or lack thereof). We were a feisty group of about 15 college students, fresh out of the dorms and into off-campus housing and excited about a weekly dinner party with a little something more.
That little something more was always a whirl of questions and negotiation. All week leading up to shabbat a spicy conversation ensued, each person adding his or her own distinct take on how and what shabbat should be.
But, when the food was presented on Friday night (long after sundown) the tension dissipated. Suddenly we were a unified family, eating and celebrating together. And there was one dish that embodied this group transformation: stir fry.
Stir-fry. The coming-of-age dish of student chefs; a sincere step away from dining hall grub. Stir-fry — a dish made of whatever it is you can find in the fridge, a mish mash as diverse as the opinions held by the members of our shabbat crew.
Many foods made it onto the shabbat table over the months (or was it years?) that these dinners were held. Tabouleh and hummus, curried lentils, matzo ball soup, homemade challah and more. But stir fry was always there, thrown together at the last minute by whomever was hosting. Vegetables cut in rudimentary shapes, soy sauce (lots of it), tofu, garlic (at least in powder form) and fresh ginger when we were lucky. It wasn’t necessarily the most delicious food on the table, but it was always the centerpiece, the symbolic coming together of our motley crew.
Years later the members of that group are still friends, though we no longer attempt the same epic shabbat meals as before and most of us have vastly improved our cooking skills. If we make a stir-fry (and frankly we still do, it never goes out of culinary style), we are more likely to be inspired by a recipe from Mark Bittman than solely by what everyone pulls from their refrigerator drawers. We’ve all grown up a bit, and our food has come along with us, though the discussion about how and what shabbat should be is as lively and flavorful as ever.
The following recipe for stir fried bok choy and daikon with crispy tofu is a great upgrade from a college variety dish. The tang of bok choy can be silenced if not cooked correctly (and with the correct complements) but here it retains its integrity. The ginger, chili, garlic and soy sauce coat the daikon and crispy tofu in a salty and spicy layer without drowning them. Serve the stir fry hot with a thin egg noodle or rice to complete your Shabbat tour-de-force.
What are your favorite stir-fry ingredients and combinations — please share with us in the comments section.
Stir-Fried Bok Choy and Daikon with Crisp Tofu
From Mark Bittman’s “Food that Matter’s Cookbook”
This has everything you want in a stir-fry: delicious bok choy, with its wonderfully creamy stems; sharp daikon radish; crusty pan-fried tofu; and a load of spice.
Tempeh, the nutty fermented soybean cake, also goes beautifully with bok choy. If you want to use it in place of the tofu, crumble it into the hot oil and stir until it’s crisp, 5 to 7 minutes.
1 head bok choy (about 1 1⁄2 pounds)
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 block firm tofu (about 1 pound), cut into 1⁄4-inch slices and patted dry
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 or 2 fresh hot chilies (like jalapeño or Thai), seeded and minced
8 ounces daikon radish, cut into 1⁄4-inch coins
2 tablespoons soy sauce, or to taste
1) Cut the leaves from the stems of the bok choy. Trim the stems as necessary, then cut them into 1-inch pieces. Cut the leaves into wide ribbons and keep them separate from the stems.
2) Put 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, slide in the tofu, working in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding the pan. Cook until the bottoms are crisp and golden, 3 to 5 minutes; carefully flip and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes on the other side. When the tofu slices are done, transfer them to paper towels to drain.
3) Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil to the pan and raise the heat to medium-high. When it’s hot, add the onion, garlic, ginger, and chile and cook, stirring, for just 1 minute. Add the bok choy stems and daikon and cook, stirring occasionally, until they just lose their crunch, about 3 minutes.
4) Add the bok choy leaves and about 1⁄2 cup water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid evaporates and the stems and radish are fully tender, 5 to 10 minutes; add a little more water if necessary. Return the tofu to the pan, stir in the soy sauce, and sprinkle with black pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Makes: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes