For those days when you’re looking for a heartier more protein rich maki may I make a suggestion? Lemongrass tofu! This dish came about simply out of my desire to do something different with my maki. Asparagus, and avocado, sweet potato, and cucumber rolls are brilliant, but sometimes you just want something different. My local health food store sells a really tasty fried tofu maki that I enjoy occasionally, and I happened to have a block of extra firm sitting in my fridge, so I put two and two together. However unlike the tofu maki at my local grocery I wanted to create a sweet, tangy and spicy sauce to marinate the ‘fu in.
Since I’ve been playing around a lot with Asian flavors lately I found myself reminiscing about Vietnamese food. I absolutely love the richness and complexity of Vietnamese fare, one dish can have so many flavor notes. I also love the liberal use of lemongrass stalk in South East Asian cooking, it’s an ingredient that’s completely neglected in every other cuisine. Which in my opinion is unfortunate. The world at large should not be deprived of the awesomeness of a really good lemongrass coconut milk ice cream, but I digress.
The marinade I made for my tofu, is inspired by the countless recipes and menu listings I’ve seen over the years for lemongrass chicken. It seems to be everywhere in Vietnamese restaurants, and though I’ve only eaten it once - years and years ago - I can tell you that lemongrass tofu is infinitely better. However I should say that I’d never go so far as to claim this marinade is in any way authentic - just the happy outcome of me tossing things together, - it is absolutely delicious, and makes for an equally good dipping sauce for the finished maki, instead of or in addition to soy sauce.
Lemongrass Tofu Marinated Maki
4 Sheets Nori
1 ½-2 C Brown Rice
3 C Water
2 Tbsp Brown Rice Vinegar
1 Tbsp Sugar
2 Carrots grated
4 Green onions thinly sliced
1lb Block of Extra Firm Tofu
Sweet Lemongrass Marinade
1/3 C Soy Sauce
1/4 C Agave
1/4-1/2 C water
2-4 Tbsp Minced Lemongrass
2-3 Tbsp Kieffier Lime Leaves minced
4 garlic cloves
1 piece ginger
½ tsp red pepper flakes
Soy Sauce or Thai Chili Sauce for Dipping
Pickled Ginger and Wasabi to Garnish
- First prepare your tofu. Drain your tofu and squeeze out as much water as possible. You want it to become dense. I used my tofu press for this, and left it in for about 2 hours. If you don’t have a tofu press you can simply wrap the tofu in a clean dish towel and place heavy objects on top of it.
- In the meantime pour all marinade ingredients into a blender and blend on high until thoroughly combined. 30-60 seconds. Set aside.
- Now is a good time to think about making your rice. For this recipe I used brown rice because that’s what I had, but if you prefer you can easily switch it out for sushi rice and there won’t be any difference. So combine your rice, your water, the vinegar and sugar in your rice cooker and cook as directed. If you don’t have a rice cooker combine rice, water, vinegar and sugar into a pot, stir to combine cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer until all water is absorbed and rice is cooked. Cooking time varies but for brown rice I’d say it’s usually done within 35 - 40 minutes so just check on it every now and again and make sure to stir so the bottom doesn’t burn. Add more water if necessary. However if you are using sushi rice the cooking time will be shorter, count on 20-25 minutes cook time but be sure to check.
- When your rice is cooked set aside until cool enough to handle.
- When tofu has finished marinating. Heat a large non-stick or cast iron pan over medium-high heat. Spray with a touch of non-stick spray. Remove the tofu from the marinade and reserve marinade. On a clean cutting board slice the tofu into 1/4 inch thick strips. Dip the strips back into the marinade to coat and then place in the heated pan.
- Fry tofu slices until firm, crisp, golden, and slightly blackened. Roughly five minutes per side, perhaps a little longer if using a non-stick pan. Once all slices have been fried on both sides remove the tofu to a plate and set aside. Once cooled slice each strip into thinner slices lengthwise.
- Now you’re ready to assemble your Maki, which is by far the trickiest part, but trust me you’ll be okay. On your clean work surface. - I use a clean bamboo cutting board - lay down your bamboo sushi rolling mat. On top lay down 1 sheet of Nori with the shiny side facing up. Have a bowl of cold water at your work station and with wet - but not profusely dripping - hands grab handfuls of rice and spread evenly over the sheet of nori. Spread the rice as close to the edges as possible but leave about a half to a quarter inch of space on the horizontal side of the Nori furthest from you. This little boarder will help your rolled Maki stick together. Rinse your hands before moving onto the next step.
- Next layer in 2-3 strips of tofu on the left parallel with the horizontal edge of the nori closest to you. Laying them down over the rice you just spread out. If they’re not long enough to reach from left to right then layer in 3 more strips on the right so that the edge closest to you is completely filled with tofu. If some poke out past the nori you can trim them off, or leave them as is.
- Sprinkle desired amount of grated carrots and sliced green onions over top of the tofu,
- Now, using your mat, and working slowly pull the mat up slightly and roll it over. Moving slowly and using both hands slowly roll your Maki, using the bamboo mat to press down and make the roll tight. You may have to stop at some point to push the filling back under the Nori or to help guide the roll. Stop just before you get to the opposite edge that you’ve left empty. Dip your fingers into the water, run them along the empty edge then roll your nori closed. Press down tightly to seel.
- It’s okay if it’s not perfect, rolling Maki takes practice and even though I’ve done it a ton of times I still don’t make a perfect roll each time. Sometimes my rolls are to fat, sometimes they don’t seel properly, sometimes I don’t cut them well. It happens, don’t beat yourself up about it. Remember that you’re doing it for the fun of it, and it’s - maybe - your first time, you’ll get better the more you practice.
- Next, and this step is very important. Before cutting your Nori into one inch sections run your chef knife under cold water. By the way you should always use a chef knife or other similar smooth edged knife to cut sushi. If you use a steak knife, or a bread knife or some other kind of knife with a jagged edge your Maki is going to get shredded and will likely fall apart. Once seaweed is wet it is very, very durable, your roll will fall apart before the seaweed cuts properly. I know from experience. So run your Chef knife under cold water. Give it a shake and then starting from one edge and working towards the other cut your roll into rounds.
- The best way to cut your roll is to do it in one smooth motion. Do not use your knife as a saw. Press down firmly it’s okay if the roll doesn’t cut right away, it’s okay if it looks like it’s getting squished a bit this is normal. Use one fluid motion, press down on the knife with your knife hand and hold the long end of the roll steadily in place with the opposite hand. Press the knife firmly down until it has cut all the way through. To separate the round from the rest of the roll you may have to give one quick saw motion depending on the sharpness of your knife, but otherwise that is it. Run your knife under cold water before EACH cut! This is important. Before each cut your knife must be wet. The drier your knife Is the more difficult this will be and the more likely your roll will fall apart.
- Congratulations! Now that one roll is finished - You should have gotten 6-8 rounds out of it by the way - give yourself a pat on the back, and then begin again from step one. Repeat all steps until ingredients are used up. At the end you may have some leftover rice. If this is the case no worries, stick it in the fridge and toss it into a salad tomorrow, or make a veggie roll for lunch!
- To serve arrange on plates and serve with dipping bowls of soy sauce, the reserved lemongrass marinade and my favorite Sweet Thai Chili Sauce. Serve with dollops of wasabi if desired and pickled ginger, yum!
*** Note - Gluten-Free if using GF Tamari. If you don't have Kieffier lime leaves you can just use some fresh grated lime zest and fresh lime juice.***