Sayur Lodeh (Tofu and Summer Vegetables in Coconut Milk)

De Arbol (Capsicum Annuum) means tree like in Spanish. The plant has thick, upright, woody stems and the chile itself is narrow, curved and bright red in color. Believed to be closely related to the pequin, the De Arbol is thin fleshed, with tannic, smoky, grassy flavor and searing heat. This chile has a heat range of 7.5 on the heat scale of 1-10. De Arbol Chiles are comparable to a Cayenne Pepper. Scoville heat units 15,000 to 30,000.

Suggested Use:
De Arbol is a hot chile and a staple in Southwest kitchens. Add some heat to your next salsa or Mexican dish. Be adventurous and add them to your next stew or chili along with the other spices. Add some heat to your next salsa or Mexican dish.

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For the flavoring paste:

1-1/2 Tbsp. dried shrimp paste
6 shallots (about 5 oz.), coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
4-10 small dried red chiles, such as arbol, stemmed and coarsely chopped
1 piece fresh or thawed turmeric, 2″ long, peeled and coarsely chopped (about 2 tsp.), or 2 tsp. ground turmeric
7 candlenuts or unsalted macadamia nuts

4 Tbsp. peanut oil, plus more for frying
one 2″ piece fresh or thawed galangal, peeled and bruised with a heavy, blunt object, such as the bottom of a glass measuring cup, until juicy (optional)
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
3 cups water
30 green beans, stemmed and sliced on the diagonal into 1-1/2″ pieces
1 Tbsp. sugar
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
two 4″ squares (8 oz.) firm fresh tofu, each square halved on the diagonal into triangles 1/2″ thick
1/4 small head green cabbage, cored and cut into 1″ squares (about 2 cups)


Making the flavoring paste:

Place the shrimp paste in the center of a 5″ square of aluminum foil and fold the edges of the foil over to form a small parcel. Press down with the heel of your hand to flatten the shrimp paste into a disk 1/4″ thick. Heat a gas burner to medium-low or an electric burner to medium-high. Using a pair of tongs or 2 forks, place the sealed parcel directly on the heat source. Toast until the paste begins to smoke and release a burning, shrimpy smell, about 1-1/2 minutes.

With the tongs or forks, turn the parcel over and toast the other side for another 1-1/2 minutes, then turn off the burner. Again using the tongs or forks, remove the parcel and let cool for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Carefully unwrap the foil. The edges of the disk should be black-brown and toasty and the center should be golden with some black-brown patches. Using a spoon, scrape the toasted shrimp paste into a small bowl and allow it to cool for another 30 seconds. Discard the foil.

Place the toasted shrimp paste, shallots, garlic, chiles, turmeric and candlenuts in a small food processor and pulse until you have a smooth paste the consistency of creamy mashed potatoes. If the paste wont puree properly and repeatedly creeps up the side of the processor instead of grinding, add up to 2 Tbsp. of water, 1 tablespoon at a time, periodically turning the processor off and scraping the unground portions down toward the blade.

Making the dish:

Heat the 4 Tbsp. of oil in a 4 quart saucepan, Dutch oven, or soup pot over medium-low heat. Test to see if the oil is the right temperature by adding a pinch of the ground paste. The paste should sizzle slightly around the edges, not fry aggressively or sit motionless. When the oil is ready, add all the paste and the galangal and saute, stirring as needed to prevent scorching, until the shallots and garlic no longer smell raw and the paste begins to separate slightly from the oil, 5-7 minutes. Be careful not to let the flavoring paste cook for too long. It should be limp and silken, not golden and crusty.

Add 1/2 cup of the coconut milk and all the water. Raise the heat to medium and bring the liquid to a steady simmer, stirring constantly. Add the green beans, carrots, sugar, and salt and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let the vegetables simmer gently, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until they are fork-tender and only slightly crunchy, about 15 minutes. (Dont let the liquid boil, or the coconut milk may curdle. You may need to adjust the heat periodically if the simmer becomes too vigorous or too slow.)

Meanwhile, deep-fry the tofu, then dry the tofu triangles thoroughly with paper towels. Pour oil to a depth of 1 inch into a 1-1/2 to 2 quart saucepan and place over medium to medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. To test if the oil is the right temperature (it should be about 365F, spear a piece of tofu onto a fork and slip a corner of the piece into the oil. If the oil is ready, it will immediately bubble vigorously around the tofu. Using 2 forks or a pair of tongs, add the tofu pieces in small batches (crowding will cool the oil down and make the tofu greasy). Fry the tofu pieces, turning them often with a slotted spoon, until theyre uniformly golden and crispy 3-5 minutes. Be sure not to fry the tofu beyond the point at which it is just golden, or its texture will be tough, its taste bitter. Using the slotted spoon, transfer the tofu pieces to paper towels to drain.

Add the fried tofu. and cabbage to the simmering coconut-milk broth and continue to cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is wilted and beginning to turn translucent, about 10 minutes. Do not let the cabbage overcook and become mushy.

Add the remaining 1/2 cup coconut milk and allow it to heat through, about 2 minutes. Taste for salt, and add a pinch if needed.