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May 8, 2007 02:33 PM

Stir-Fried Vegetables with Tofu Recipe?

My local Thai restaurant makes a great version of this. I can't order out that often so I'd like to learn to make it at home. The trouble with stir fries is that they often taste a bit flat. How do you get it right?

I usually us soy, ginger, garlic and maybe some veggie or chicken broth. Where am I going wrong?

If anyone has a good recipe I'd appreciate it if you'd share it with me and your fellow Chowhounds.

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  1. Some fresh and some dried chili? Some fermented black beans?

    1. A Thai stir-fry is pretty likely to have fish sauce in it, so that might be the flavour nuance you are missing.

      My other guess would be that you might not be working at a high enough heat --- restaurant stir-fries are difficult to duplicate well because restaurant wok's get far hotter then most home stoves are capable of.

      If I wanted to make a Thai-style stir fry of veggies and tofu, this is what I would do:

      julienne red and green peppers, an onion, bamboo shoots, and a fresh red chili

      cut the tofu into small triangles or cubes and deep fry them

      mince a little garlic and ginger together and slice a scallion

      set by the wok - peanut oil, cooking sherry, fish sauce, lime wedges, some sugar, soy sauce, some cilantro leaves, some roasted rice powder, the white end of the scallion, the garlic/ginger.

      Put the wok on the stove over high heat until it just barely starts to smoke. pour the vegetable oil down the sides of the wok, throw in the garlic, ginger and white scallions and toss for about 30 seconds, then add the julienne vegetables, toss, and pour a little sherry down the side of the wok, toss another 30 seconds, add the tofu, sprinkle over fish sauce and sugar, still stirring continuously, -- then add some soy and more sherry if I want a saucy stir fry, or just a sprinkle of soy if I don't. Add the green of the scallions, toss well, and remove from heat. Finish with cilantro and lime squeezed over, and top with a little roasted rice powder to serve.

      At no point in the stir frying process should the sound of the wok drop below a loud hissing sizzle --- if it does, I'm not stir frying anymore, but braising/boiling/ or steaming, and it won't taste the same.

      1. Stir-frying ('pad' in Thai) is a method of cooking in Thai cuisine. There are hundreds of different popular stir-fried dishes in Thailand. Can you describe your local Thai restaurant's version? Or perhaps sneak a pic to us? At least tell us: what vegetables, is it dry or kinda juicy, is there basil? Do you recognize any of the spices or flavors?

        AnneEA is right about the fish sauce. Thais also don't use much ginger, that's more reserved for Chinese cuisine. Nor do they use fermented black beans (but they do use a bunch of fermented soy beans, a brown color). And they don't use sherry.

        It's impossible to throw all sorts of Thai ingredients together at once and expect something tasty. Certain ingredients have pairs, or 'friends' which they taste well with. For instance, fermented beans (the brown ones) taste great with a ton of garlic and spoon or two of oyster sauce, and are usually used to stir fry green leafy vegetables over extremely high heat, called pad fai daeng (red fire stir fry).

        Here's a recipe for a pad fai daeng, using Chinese water spinach, with a picture:

        Let us know a bit more about your dish and perhaps we can help. :)

        6 Replies
        1. re: cee

          cee, you and Anna are 100% right. Sorry. As a person who has lived in Thailand, I agree--no fermented black beans in Thai dishes and real heat as well! Often with fish sauce. Galangal as well as ginger. I would still think about chilis. My comments were aimed at American kitchens, their ingredients and stoves, and how to possibly perk up twodales' dishes quickly. What made me take the approach was that I don't think of tofu as a Thai ingredient--although you can, in the last many years find Thai tofus in Thai dishes.

          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

            Hey Sam,
            That's very cool that you lived in Thailand! Where in the country were you, and how long ago? Do you miss it?

            Tofu's all over the place in Thailand.. But you're right, it's not Thai. It was brought here by the Chinese immigrants, and has been made popular by them, just like noodles. It mostly pops up in Chinese-style stir fried dishes. There's a type I get at the market here which is yellow, salty, and has a big red Chinese stamp on it. It's quite good. Thais fry it in cubes or triangles on the street and serve it with sweet chili sauce and crushed peanuts. Mmmm! I even have a picture of it, if you're curious:


            And yeah, you're right, chilies would definitely perk up the dish a bunch. :)

            1. re: cee

              Ubon Ratchatani in the mid 80s, which is part of why Isarn food is a personal favorite and Central Thai is not.

          2. re: cee

            Cee's right -- I use the sherry cause that's what I learned as "default stir fry technique", but it's not particularly Thai at all.

            Cee - I can't get that link to work :( Is it just me, or is it a bad link? I know that recipe as "water spinach in flames" and usually make it with regular spinach. I'm too chicken to set it on fire though!

            1. re: AnnaEA

              AnnaEA - The links should work now. My server went down for an hour. Must have been the exact time you tried it. What luck. :P

              You don't need to actually set it on fire... the most important part is the red flame of the heat underneath the wok. The pan's got to be so hot that when you throw the veggie in (whatever you use), it's sizzles like mad. I've even made it on an electric stove-top with good results. I had to leave the pan on top with oil in it for about 5 minutes on high, but it worked! Once you get the hang of it, it's super easy.

              1. re: cee

                What a great site! I made chicken with basil for our lunch today, so I got a kick out of seeing the pork with holy basil on the front page. I think I'll make the slightly pickled cucumber salad later this week, it looks good.

                I do all my cooking on electric these days :( Five minutes heat time is right on for my wok, but I add the oil at the very end -- I think it has a fresher taste then if I heat the oil with the wok.

          3. Here you go! Hopefully you will enjoy this as much as I did.

            1 quantity of Ankake sauce (below)
            1/2 lb. carrots
            1/2 lb. daikon (Asian radish)
            6 stalks of celery
            6 scallions
            12 oz.- 1 lb. firm tofu
            2 tsp. sunflower oil

            Cut the carrots, daikon, celery, and scallions into matchstick-sized pieces. Slice the tofu. Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet. When hot, stir-fry the vegetables for 3-4 minutes over a high heat, stirring constantly, until they are just soft. Add the tofu and cook for another 2 minutes. Heat the Ankake sauce and serve immediately with stir-fried vegetables and tofu.

            Ankake Sauce


            7 oz. pineapple juice
            1 tsp. honey
            1 tsp. red-wine vinegar
            1 Tbs. miso (soy paste)
            1 tsp. cornstarch


            Mix all the ingredients together in a saucepan. Bring to boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes until the sauce thickens, stirring all the time.