Harissa Stir-Fry with Quelites (or Spinach), Asparagus, and Tofu

Not to belabor the point, but I am sure enjoying my CSA this year. Last week it was nettles, this week it’s quelites. I wasn’t even sure what quelites were until I arrived to collect my share. At that point I instantly recognized them by their distinctive, almost Cubist leaves: wild spinach. Just the other day Laura commented here that her favorite of the wild greens is Lamb’s Quarters, and to my surprise, per this little piece by Deborah Madison, quelites and wild spinach and Lamb’s Quarters are all the same thing. From my previous experience, I knew quelites/wild spinach/lamb’s quarters to be a little tedious to clean but that’s the price of good vegetables, and I liked it when I added it to some Pad Thai I’d been making. This time I thought I’d showcase it more prominently in a stir-fry.

And with the stir-fry I happened to touch base with many a vegetable that’s in season right now. On the drive home from Western Massachusetts with Ilsa, we bought some asparagus that was on sale in someone’s front yard. (I briefly tried to envision a Brooklyn counterpart to the front yard vegetable stand: a fold-up table propped up in front of a brownstone, topped with a few dozen bunches of freshly picked asparagus and a cash box for collecting payment, all operating on the honor system. Yeah, right.)

The asparagus went into the stir fry. I threw in some julienned radishes—also from the CSA, thank you very much—for crunch. Then I made a flavor base from scallions, garlic, and ginger, which what one instructor for a dim sum class I took called “the mire poix of the East”—this is an intoxicating aroma if you’ve not tried it out before. And for the stir-fry sauce, I turned to a can of harissa I’d recently purchased. Over the past year or so I’ve been incorporating harissa—a North African pepper paste that looks like tomato paste—into all kinds of dishes. It’s really tasty thinned out with some of the pasta cooking water and tossed with spaghetti, some crumbled feta cheese, and a handful of fresh cilantro or parsley. This stir-fry expression is another one that I particularly like.

But I ate all the quelites before I had a chance to photograph them. So what you’re seeing is a variation of this stir-fry with baby spinach, which isn’t a bad way to do things either. Spinach gives off more liquid than quelites do, but it combines appealingly with the harissa sauce to make a little bit more “juice” for the rice to soak up. It’s a spicy dish, but not too spicy for a weakling like me, so I’ll bet you can handle it, too.

Harissa Stir-Fry with Quelites (or Spinach), Asparagus, and Tofu
Serves 3 or 4

7-ounces firm or extra-firm tofu (half a 14-ounce package)
2 tablespoons (or so) neutral oil (grapeseed, peanut, canola, safflower—just not olive oil, which will burn)
3 plump scallions, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced
3 plump cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
1 (scant) tablespoon harissa
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons hot tap water
1/2 bunch (about 8 ounces) asparagus spears, cut into 2-inch pieces
8 ounces quelites, thoroughly cleaned and stems removed, or baby spinach
2 big radishes, cut into thin matchsticks
Salt as needed
A long squeeze of fresh lemon juice
3 cups cooked brown rice
Cilantro sprigs for garnish

1. Slice the tofu into 3 wide rectangles and sandwich them between a few layers of paper towel or tea towels. Weigh down with a heavy pan or cutting board (I use a Pyrex baking pan with a can of tomatoes on top) for a few minutes to squeeze out excess moisture. Cut into cubes and sprinkle with a pinch of salt.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a sauté pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the tofu and fry until golden on two sides. This is best achieved by not stirring too often, though you will want to shake the pan or scrape the tofu up with a metal spatula a few times at first so as to discourage the tofu from sticking. (And if you use a nonstick pan, you can get away with using less oil.) This will take about 10 minutes total. Transfer to a plate.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together the harissa, sugar, and water.

4. Add another splash of oil to the pan if it seems dry. Add the scallions and cook for a minute or two, until just softened and fragrant, then add the garlic and ginger, and cook for another minute. Pour in the harissa mixture, stirring to combine and quickly scraping up any browned bits, then add the asparagus. Cover the pan and cook for 3 minutes, or until the asparagus spears are tender. Uncover and add the quelites or spinach, folding and tossing until just wilted. Stir in the tofu. Remove from heat and stir in the radishes, lemon juice, and salt to taste. Serve over brown rice, garnished with the cilantro.

Non-vegan variation: Scramble two eggs after pan-frying the tofu, adding a splash of oil to the skillet if needed. Transfer the cooked eggs to the plate with the tofu and proceed with the rest of the recipe, then add them back to the pan along with the tofu. This will make for a very filling dish.


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