I realised with some alarm that I hadn’t yet done a broccoli dish on this site. This is most unusual, as my passion for broccoli borders on obsession. This pretty emerald-coloured vegetable is the ‘default’ item that I put in my shopping basket whenever I haven’t worked out my menu plan, because I know that I’ll always find a use for it. If I don’t eat broccoli at least once or twice a week, I’ll start having serious cravings for it. I cook the vegetable in many different ways – but because I cook it so frequently, I’m always on the lookout for new broccoli recipes, so if you know any good ones, do let me know!
This authentic Chinese recipe is one of my favourite ways of cooking broccoli. It’s based on two cooking techniques commonly used in Chinese cookery: stir-frying and braising. I adore tofu, too – especially its texture – and in this recipe, it absorbs the sauce, giving it a lot of flavour.
Use light soy sauce for a lighter colour, as the addition of dark soy sauce will give it a darker colour and denser flavour. Using preserved black soy beans will give the dish an earthy depth; but go easy on the quantity, otherwise the dish will taste ‘muddy’. (About 7 times out of 10 when making this dish, I omit the black beans).
Use any sort of broccoli you like – Chinese (gai lan), ordinary, or tenderstem – but not purple sprouting, as its taste and texture is too coarse for this dish. I have tried numerous variations over the years – mixing the broccoli with cauliflower, pak choi or cashew nuts, for instance – but I always come back to this basic combination. I have to admit that I’m a little precious about this recipe – which is why my cooking instructions are more than usually detailed.
As it is so delicious, I cook this dish frequently. I like eating it with plain, steamed white basmati rice. I know Chinese short-grain rice would be more authentic, but I like the way the intense earthy savouriness of the dish plays off with basmati’s floral, exotic perfume. Serves 4.
For the sauce:
3 teaspoons cornflour (cornstarch)
12 fl oz/ 350 ml mild vegetable stock made with instant stock powder
2 tablespoons Chinese shaohsing wine (rice cooking wine), or dry sherry
2 tablespoons Chinese light soy sauce
2 tablespoons dark toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon preserved Chinese black soy beans, rinsed and chopped (optional)
For the broccoli and tofu:
9oz/ 225g broccoli
9oz/ 225g plain firm or silken tofu (both will give a different texture)
4 tablespoons groundnut (peanut) or corn oil
2-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 or 2 fresh red birdseye chillies, sliced (optional)
6 spring onions, trimmed and sliced widely on the diagonal
1. Start by making the sauce. In a bowl, place the cornflour and gradually add 4 fl oz/ 125 ml of the vegetable stock (leave the rest for the braising that’s required later in the cooking process). Mix well, making sure there are no lumps. Add the wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, and black beans if using. Combine thoroughly and set aside. (Incidentally, this basic sauce is wonderful for any vegetable stir-fries).
2. Cut the broccoli flowerets in medium pieces. Peel the stalks, and chop them in similar-sized pieces to the flowerets.
3. Drain the tofu on several layers of kitchen paper, then cut into cubes, long slices, or triangles.
4. Heat a wok on medium heat. When it’s hot but not smoking, lower the heat and add the oil. Then add the ginger, garlic, and chillies (if using), and let them sizzle for a few seconds. They should not become brown or burn.
5. Add the spring onions and broccoli, and stir-fry for a couple of minutes. Add the remaining 8 fl oz/ 225 ml stock and salt, and bring to the boil. (Go easy on the salt – because the vegetable stock and soy sauce are already salty, you won’t need much – if at all). Lower the heat, and simmer with the lid on for a couple of minutes until the broccoli is tender but still al dente. Do not overcook – the broccoli should preserve its vibrant green colour.
6. Remove the broccoli from the wok with a slotted spoon and set aside. (Some of the spring onions clinging to the broccoli will come out, too – this is okay!).
7. Turn the heat to very, very low, and add the tofu pieces to the remaining liquid. (If you’re using silken tofu, handle it gently as this is the point where it’s likely to break up).
8. Once the tofu is heated through, give the cornflour-based sauce a stir and pour it in. Mix very gently. Cook until the sauce begins to thicken and reduce in quantity.
9. Add the cooked broccoli back to the wok. Once again, mix gently and thoroughly, so that the broccoli and tofu are coated with the sauce.
10. Once the sauce has thickened, remove the wok from the heat. Serve immediately.