Let thy leftovers be thy inspiration.
We don’t eat out at restaurants all that often, but when we do, we normally go out for Thai food. Thai restaurants for the most part are fairly accomodating to vegans, and I find that most of them make many of their foods “à la minute”, so they can eliminate any egg or fish sauce from the dishes. However, within the past year or so, a new restaurant called Thailicious opened not too far from us. Conservatively, I’d say we go about once every two weeks. The cool thing about this restaurant, although it’s not exclusively vegan, it that their large menu has an entire vegan section. It’s so much more convenient to just order the vegan pad thai as opposed to ordering the pad thai, and then itemizing the ingredients you don’t want them to put in your food.
Our order at Thailicious is fairly standard by now, with just a few possible variations. We always get the drunken noodle. In fact, one time, we each just ordered a plate of drunken noodles and called it a day. We usually get their pineapple fried rice, although there was a month or two where we opted for getting the papaya salad or vegan beef jerky as an appetizer instead of getting the fried rice. Sometimes we get another noodle dish like pad thai in addition to our drunken noodles, but lately we’ve been ordering their orange tofu as our “main” dish.
Their orange tofu is something special. They have a way of getting it super crispy, and then it’s coated in this sticky sweet and vibrant orange sauce. The tofu is cooked so perfectly; it even has a bit of chew to it. It’s so good!
I always have a tendency to over-order when we go. Sometimes I listen to my gut and stop eating when I’m full. Other times I just keep going and going until all of the plates are empty. (You know that point when eating family style at a Thai restaurant and people stop putting food onto their plate and start just picking at things with their fork?)
The last time we went. I went totally overboard and ordered the drunken noodle, the fried rice, the orange tofu, AND the beef jerky. It was ambitious, but I couldn’t decide. And over-ordering is only a problem if I overeat. It’s never a problem if I exercise some restraint, and take some leftovers home.This time, we ended up taking about half of the orange tofu home, and most of the jasmine rice that comes with their entrees.
A note about Thai leftovers: Aren’t they the best?! I love waking up in the morning knowing that I have leftovers from the night before in the fridge. It’s second only to pizza in terms of leftovers. They rarely survive in the fridge past breakfast.
I had mentioned it on Instagram, but Ben and I are starting this 7:30 dinner time thing. The premise being that Ben isn’t vegan, but he would be if eating vegan was more convenient for his lifestyle. His perception of food is purely based its on convenience. He doesn’t seem to have cravings, or think about food from the time his eyes open in the morning to the time his eyes close at night like I do. I’m food obsessed, to a fault. He is food apathetic to a fault. I’m not saying that he doesn’t love good food, or that he isn’t critical of a dish that isn’t “special”, I’m just saying that he normally isn’t hungry, and then suddenly he is hungry. His goal is then to quickly and efficiently solve the hunger problem so that he can return to doing what he’s doing. Ideally, his perfect meal is handheld so he doesn’t even have to stop doing what he’s doing in order to eat it.
I suggested that we have a set dinner time every night so that he knows when to expect food, and so I can plan vegan meals that he will like so that we can avoid him getting instantly hungry in the middle of the night and winding up in the McDonald’s drive-thru.
So, here we were at about three days into dinner time routine; I have the leftover orange tofu and jasmine rice in the fridge, and not much else. That morning I had been testing recipes for homemade flour tortillas, so I had a few of those hanging out in the fridge as well. Ben was playing video game. It was 7:00. I was planning on going to the farmers market and the grocery store the following day, so other than a few other leftover food experiments, condiments, half of an avocado, and a head of broccoli, there wasn’t much in the fridge to draw inspiration from. And Ben doesn’t really love broccoli.
But you know what? I was in heaven. This is where I thrive! One of the reasons why I even suggested the dinner time thing, aside from trying to get him to eat more vegan food, was to give me a nightly platform to play and experiment with food. At 7:30 every night, I would have a captive audience. Win-win.
So, now I had a mission: Make a meal. I also had a deadline: 30 minutes. And I had an obstacle: Make a meal in 30 minutes that Ben will actually like using only what you have in the fridge. And ideally make it easy for him to eat because he isn’t planning on getting of his Twitch stream anytime soon.
I started pulling things out: The Thailicious leftovers. The tortillas. Some soy milk mayo (that I had tested the day before). The avocado half. And then I just stared at the mess I made as time ticked on.
Without much intention, I put the orange tofu on a nonstick sheet, and threw it in the air fryer to heat up. I grabbed some sunflower oil and sesame oil and I poured a bit of each into a nonstick pan. I found a couple of limp green onions hiding out in the vegetable crisper, and I separated them into thinly sliced whites, and quarter inch sections of green. I found a handful of frozen peas, and I just started throwing things in the pan with the leftover jasmine rice and a few dashes of Bragg’s Liquid Aminos.
It was probably at the moment when the fried rice was almost finished that divine inspiration took over and I got the full vision of what dinner was going to be: Orange Tofu Burritos!
Funny enough, a few weeks prior, Ben and I were brainstorming recipe ideas for my channel, and we were thinking of cuisines to combine. “What about, like a Panda Express burrito?” The idea was written down, and then forgotten.
I knew that the dish needed a sauce. Sriracha mayo is always my go to, or any type of spicy-sweety creamy sauce. So I put a bit of sriracha in the jar of mayo, added the remnants of a jar of coconut milk, and stirred.
I heated four tortillas. Divided the rice and tofu evenly. Topped each “burrito” with avocado and a generous drizzle of the coconut sriracha mayo, and called it dinner.
I snapped a picture and uploaded it to Instagram, and then I delivered Ben his dinner right on time: Vegan AND handheld.
The picture on Instagram did better than most of the images from the recipes that I post. And Ben was madly in love with his meal. Was this going to be a dinner time staple?
I just need to figure out how to make the dish without the leftovers!
I did some research into the Panda Express orange chicken, and I searched ways to get tofu extra crispy. The fried rice I had thrown together ended up being perfect, so I just remade it so I could get more precise measurements. After a few experiments, I had the dish down.
Admittedly, this recipe is high in sugar, and it does contain deep fried, and even pan fried components, as well as mayo-based sauce. I wouldn’t call this dish “healthy”. However, when cooking vegan food for omnivores, it’s important to make them feel like they aren’t missing out. This is not the time to experiment with lowering the calories, fat, or salt in a dish. Familiar textures and flavors are very important to those that don’t think that vegan foods can be as flavorful and delicious as their omnivorous counterparts. I could easily have made this dish in the air fryer, lowered the amount of sugar, or used an alternative sweetener. Knowing my audience, I didn’t. The idea of this dish can easily be made much healthier. However, this is the version of the dish, with all of the fat and calories, as I made if for someone who just wants vegan food to taste like the food he loves, and not a oil-free, sugar-free, low-sodium version of the food he loves.
- Orange tofu (recipe below)
- Fried rice (recipe below)
- Homemade tortillas (store bought it fine…)
- Coconut Sriracha Sauce (recipe below)
This recipe for orange tofu was more than heavily inspired by the orange chicken at Panda Express. If you're craving a vegan version of that dish, then look no further.
- 1 orange, zested and juiced (or sub ¼ cup orange juice)
- ¼ rice wine vinegar
- ¼ cup evaporated cane juice or granulated sugar
- ¼ cup light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 cloves of garlic, grated or finely minced
- ½ teaspoon ginger, grated or finely minced
- ½ teaspoon chili flake
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- toasted sesame seeds
- 1 block firm or extra firm tofu, drained and pressed
- ½ cup cornstarch
- ½ cup all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 to 1 cup water
- pinch of salt
- Black pepper
- Oil for frying
- Combine all ingredients, except for the sesame seeds, in a bowl, and stir well to combine. The sugar will not dissolve, but you want to make sure that the corn starch is fully incorporated.
- Pour the mixture into a sauce pan on medium-low heat. Stir the mixture as it heats up, making sure that nothing burns to the bottom of the pan. Once the sauce begins to bubble, it will immediately start to thicken. When the sauce is no longer cloudy, and is fairly thick, remove it from the heat and set aside.
- Cut your well-drained tofu into 1 inch cubes. Place the cubes in a large mixing bowl.
In smaller bowl, or measuring cup, combine the cornstarch, flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, and water. Stir well until there are no more lumps. You are looking for the consistency of a thin pancake batter.
Pour the flour and cornstarch batter over the tofu cubes. Very gently stir the tofu around until every piece is coated in the batter.
- In a deep fryer, or a high-walled pan or pot, heat your frying oil to 360 degrees Fahrenheit.
One by one, gently place your coated tofu cubes into the heated frying oil. Make sure not to overcrowd your pan or deep fryer. Allow the tofu to cook until they are just golden brown and crispy. You will probably have to work in batches, so set your cooked tofu on a drying rack or paper towel lined plate until all of your tofu is cooked.
- Toss the cooked tofu in the orange sauce and coat completely. Top with toasted sesame seeds.
Note: Don’t want to use tofu? Cauliflower is also incredible in this dish. Don’t want to deep fry? Then just use my recipe for air-fried tofu and cauliflower.
This recipe is for a very basic fried rice. You could easily jazz it up with some crispy tofu, or your favorite vegan meats.
- 1 tablespoon sunflower oil or other neutral-flavored oil
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 ½ cups cooked and chilled jasmine rice (2 day old is the ultimate)
- 1 tablespoon Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
- 2 green onions
- 1 clove garlic, grated or finely minced
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- 3 tablespoons frozen green peas
For this recipe you really want to use cooked rice that has been refrigerated overnight. Freshly cooked rice will result in a gummy texture, and a rice that will more than likely stick to the pan.
Thinly slice the white portions of your green onions, and then cut the green part into ¼ inch pieces.
Put a large frying pan or wok on high heat. If you are using a nonstick pan, make sure to not exceed the heat limit for your pan. Once heated, add the oil and the white part of your green onions. Allow to saute for about a minute or two, but don't let it brown. Add the minced garlic and saute for about 30 seconds.
- Before your garlic starts to brown, add in the remaining ingredients, starting with the rice. Toss and stir until the rice is warmed through and starting to sear, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Note: Don’t want to use oil? As long as your pan is hot enough and nonstick enough, you might be able to get about with not using any oil. Just add all of the ingredients in at the same time, and then toss in your pan until heated through.
This is a sweet and spicy sauce that can be tailored to meet your dietary needs. As long as you use the sriracha and the coconut milk, you can sub in any vegan cream sauce to serve as the base. I had vegan mayo, so that's what I used. But a thick cashew cream out be amazing.
- ½ cup vegan mayo, or equivalent of plain vegan yogurt or thick cashew cream
- ¼ cup full-fat coconut milk or coconut cream
- 2 tablespoons sriracha
Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl, and stir until fully incorporated. Chill until ready to serve.