When I was out in Missoula, Montana a few weeks ago running my 50 miler, we stocked up on food for me at a local natural food grocery store called Good Food. Scouring the deli section, I picked out a few pre-made salads that were gluten-free and vegan. One of them was a Kung Pao rice salad and let me tell you, that salad has been on my mind ever since. Lucky for me, I peeled the ingredients label off the container and brought it home with me in hopes of recreating it.
Americanized Asian food is not healthy...that shouldn't come as a surprise to you. It is loaded with MSG, sodium, fat, and fast burn carbs. This salad is a much healthier version of Kung Pao, which is traditionally a stir fry dish made with meat, heat, and peanuts. Well, I replaced the meat with tofu, kept the heat (because why wouldn't you), opted for low sodium gluten-free soy sauce, and added some unsalted peanuts. Still salty enough to satisfy that craving, but with about 300 mg of sodium per serving, it is a much better option if you love the flavors of Asian food but are trying to eat healthy.
A few notes before we begin. As you know, I make big batches of brown rice and we eat it with beans and veggies for lunch or dinner during the week. So pre-make your own batch of brown rice and use some of it for this recipe. Also, if you can find pre-pressed baked plain tofu, then buy it. It is great cold or heated and is extremely convenient. Do not just buy tofu, fry it and eat it. You will not like it. It is wet, flavorless, and has a creepy consistency. In short, it will turn you off of tofu forever and we can't have that. So look for the pre-pressed version (many natural grocers, including Whole Foods and Trader Joes, do carry this).
But if you are like me and can't seem to find it locally, then invest $20 in a tofu press. Pressing your own tofu takes a bit of pre-planning and attention, but it is easy and makes a huge difference.
If you are lucky enough to find the pre-pressed baked tofu, you can skip this first step and just cut it into cubes and toss into your salad cold. If not, then go ahead and press your tofu slowly over a few hours, making sure to turn your knobs every half hour to press the liquid out. I place mine in a pan and each time I turn the knobs, I also drain the pan.
Once you have pressed it to about half an inch thick, pour a small amount of sesame and olive oil in a skillet and get hot. Season the tofu with salt and pepper, and then sear each side by frying about 3 minutes before turning.
And the rest is easy. Grate your carrot (or buy a pre-grated bag), chop up your red bell pepper, mince up your garlic and chop the spring onions. Toss the cooked brown rice, chunked tofu, carrots, bell pepper, garlic and spring onions in a large bowl. Add some red pepper flakes for heat, sesame seeds, and chopped unsalted peanuts. Set this aside.
In a small bowl, combine the low sodium tamari sauce (gluten-free soy sauce), sesame oil, and apple cider vinegar.
Add the sauce to the salad and lightly toss to combine. Garnish with lime wedges and serve!
I bet you end up craving this salad as much as I do. Let me know what you think in the comment section below!
Time: 40 minutes
5 c. cooked short grain brown rice
1 block pre-pressed baked tofu, cut into chunks
1/2 a red bell pepper, sliced
1/2 c. grated carrots
4 stalks spring onions, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4. cup unsalted peanuts, rough chopped
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. sesame seeds
2 tbsp. reduce sodium tamari sauce (GF soy sauce)
1 tbsp. sesame oil
1/2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
Make your brown rice ahead of time. If you can’t find pre-pressed tofu, take a block of extra firm tofu and use a tofu-press (inexpensive on Amazon and worth it if you eat tofu often) over 2-3 hours to slowly press out the liquid.
If you are making your own pressed tofu, sauté your pressed block in a hot pan with a tsp. of sesame oil and a tsp. of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Get crisp on each side, remove from heat, allow to cool and then cut into chunks.
In a large bowl, combine all the salad ingredients and set aside.
In small bowl, combine the sauce ingredients. Pour over the salad and lightly toss to combine.