This is one of those unforgettable dishes that stays etched in your memory months, no, years after you savor it for the first time. It was a serendipitous visit to a restaurant called Sabai Thai at a bustling Orchard Road mall, during one of our first visits to Singapore (before we officially moved here).Unbeknownst to us we had hit a gold mine in a Thai restaurant that had a unique all vegetarian menu😊.
This steamed tofu dish in a garlic and lemon sauce was one of the best dishes on the menu and the most unique Thai dishes I have tasted – different from the usual curry, salads and other fares that dot most Thai vegetarian menus.
I tasted this dish again exactly 3 years later at Sabai’s other branch near the Fullerton Bay Hotel. The flavors were still the same and I realized they were probably one of the few restaurants to offer a vegetarian version of this dish. Typically made with steamed whole fish in garlic and lemon sauce or Pla Kapong as it is called, this is considered popular in Isan cuisine, the northeastern part of Thailand.
There was something about this dish that, like many other Thai dishes had an Indian taste, South indian, to be exact.. It was like a fusion of tofu simmered in a rasam broth. Possibly why my rasam loving husband listed it as his most favorite-est Thai dish:)
So I tried to recreate this recipe and looked around for the best recipe for guidance. Surprisingly there were no vegetarian versions out there and even the original fish recipe was not documented very clearly. So this was one of those experiments where I made the sauce from half memory and half inspiration and was quite proud of the result.
This one is for the files and will be used again. Dinner that evening was Thai vegetarian green curry, steamed white rice and Tao Huu Neung Manao.
Fresh tofu (medium firm) – 1 packet
Garlic 3-4 pods or 3 tbsp
Lemon – 1 1/2 squeezed; or 3 tbsp
Thai red chili, sliced – 4 (note the red ones are very very spicy so you may substitute for 2-3 green ones)
vegetable stock – 1/2cup
Miso paste – 1 tbsp or to taste (this is used in place of the fish sauce)
1/2 tsp sugar
Cilantro, 1 bunch
Thai basil leaves, few chopped, optional
salt, to taste
- Slice the tofu into 1/2 inch thick rounds. Set aside.
- Now make the sauce. Mix the vegetable stock, crushed garlic, red chilies, cilantro, miso and sugar together. Add salt to taste.
- Take a flat vessel with edges. Pour some of the sauce/liquid in the vessel. Place the tofu slices. Add more of the sauce over it so the tofu is able to soak up the liquid.
- Use a steamer or pressure cooker. Pour some water at the bottom of the pressure cooker, keep a small cup upside down and place the flat vessel with the tofu and sauce over it. If you have other sophisticated steamer vessels please use your own method but this was my contraption to ensure the tofu and liquid get steamed together:)
- Pressure cook for about one whistle or for about 7 minutes. Make sure you don’t steam for too long as it will dismember the tofu.
- Wait for the pressure cooker to cool and then open the lid for a wafting garlicky aroma:). Garnish with chopped Thai basil leaves,
- Enjoy with steamed hot white or brown rice.