Restorative Rice: Tofu Rice Bowl with Italian Greens

I have eaten a lot of rice in my life. Growing up, it formed part of our dinner almost every night- not an exaggeration. Sure, we had noodles some of the time and potatoes more rarely, but more often than not, rice was the starch on our table. It wasn’t until much later that I realised this wasn’t everybody’s experience, that many of my friends thought of rice as something you ate in a Chinese restaurant, or that came inside your California roll. But my parents have always liked cooking from a range of world cuisines, so my youthful palate was as used to Chinese and Indian flavours as it was to Italian and North American.

This paid off later in life. I remember one night in university, hitting a sushi restaurant with a bunch of my classmates. My relative dexterity with chopsticks earned me a You use those better than I do, Ele from one of my Korean-born pals. And of course, rice is cheap; I wonder where Id have been without that student standby meal, fried rice. Probably eating bagels from the caf at school (which I did rather a lot of, as well). I’ve always preferred the taste of brown rice to white, so it has done me a favour from a health standpoint, as well. I suppose I have a lot to thank rice for.

So you can imagine my surprise when I recently realised that I hadn’t made any rice in months. Except as a side for the odd curry, I’d say it had been two or three months since I last had some. I didn’t even have any in the house! Obviously, this needed to be rectified, and what better way to do that than with a tasty rice bowl? Exactly what it says on the tin, a rice bowl is basically a filling, tasty bowl of rice accompanied by some other yummy stuff. Similar to fried rice, except they’re not always fried. I’ve had cold ones in the summer, spicy ones in the winter, simple ones and complex ones.

This recipe is a little bit different, in that it blends some Italian flavours (cavolo nero cabbage and fresh basil, to be exact) in with the Asian ones. I wish I could say that this is due to my haute taste for fusion, but it was really just what I had in the fridge at the time. Nevermind though, this is delicious and oh-so-restorative. Exactly what I need on a chilly London afternoon, not least because it reminds me that it could be a lot worse. I could still be eating this on a chilly Canadian afternoon, after all.


Tofu Rice Bowl with Italian Greens

serves 4

  • 400g firm tofu
  • 1 large bulb fennel
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 Tbs. sesame oil
  • 1 Tbs. honey
  • 1/2 tsp. chili flakes
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 cups cavolo nero leaves, roughly chopped or torn
  • 3 cups cooked brown rice (leftovers are great here, or simply cook first and allow to cool a bit)
  • 1/3 cup chopped basil

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F and find a large baking dish. Press the tofu between several layers of paper towel or a tea towel, to remove the excess moisture. Cut into 1″ cubes and place into the baking dish.
  2. Remove the fennel stems and peel any brown bits away. Chop the bulb into 1″ chunks and add to the baking dish with the tofu. Lightly crush the garlic cloves with the blade of a knife, then add them, too.
  3. To make the marinade, mix together the orange juice, soy sauce, sesame oil and honey in a small bowl or jug. Stir in the chili flakes then pours over the tofu. Mix well and allow to sit for about 20 minutes.
  4. Bake the tofu mixture for 40 minutes, gently stirring every 10. Most of the sauce will be absorbed, and what’s left will become a dark, sticky glaze. Remove when there is still a little liquid in the bottom, and when the edges of the tofu are crispy.
  5. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat. Rinse the chopped cavolo nero leaves well, then add them to the pan. Cover tightly and allow to steam for about 5 minutes, shaking every so often to avoid burning the leaves on the bottom. Remove lid and continue stir-frying the cabbage until done to your liking.
  6. Add the rice to the pan, along with the remaining marinade from the bottom of the tofu pan. Cook until the rice is hot throughout, then tip in the tofu and fennel. Cook for another minute or so before turning off the heat and stirring in the basil. Serve hot.
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