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Kung Pao Fighting

kung pao ramen tofu spicy vegetarian carl douglas
“He said, here comes the big boss, let’s get it on!”

Theme song by Carl Douglas “Kung Fu Fighting” from Kung Fu Fighter
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The music inspiration for this recipe is a triple-edged sword. It’s theoretically disco though I believe it’s more pop-funk. It’s a novelty song. It’s possibly racist/bigoted as hell.

The defense against the first two is easy. The third is perhaps not so easy.

I really don’t care about the disco or novelty criticisms. There are a plethora of great disco tunes (“I Will Survive” & “Don’t Leave Me This Way” come immediately to mind) and novelty tunes help us through the dark times (thanks Weird Al and “Baby Shark”). 

It’s the racism/bigotry label that poses an issue in 2022. Mind you, this is a song from 1974. It’s riffing on the U.S, obsession with Chinese kung fu films. Bruce Lee was literally one of the world’s biggest box office draws before his death in 1973. I was a teenager in the midwest and remember watching very badly dubbed kung fu films on Saturday afternoon TV. Add to the mix, Carl Douglas is an African-American (yes – I understand the theory non-whites cannot be “racist” but they can be bigots.) and one has to put this song in context. The ’70s African-American community embraced Kung Fu Culture. Do you doubt my white ass about this? I refer you to the Wu-Tang Clan. I’ll argue “Kung Fu Fighting” is a novelty love letter to the power of kitschy foreign cinema that broke down racial differences and created a totally new sub-culture. Honestly, we could use a lot more of that kind of cultural crossover these days.

Regardless of the cultural implications of this recipe’s name, Kung Pao Chicken has long been a default delivery order for me. I still remember my first encounter with the dish in college – trying to impress my girlfriend & her family by eating the chilis and immediately regretting my choice – but subsequently being disappointed by take-out versions not as spicy as my first. Strangely, over the years of home cooking, even making vaguely Asian dishes, I have never attempted making Kung Pao Chicken. 

And I still haven’t. 

Sure, this is easily converted to a chicken dish by switching the tofu for chicken, but it’s not really necessary. The fried tofu works perfectly to create a chicken-like mouth feel and absorbs the sauce better. Plus, this is a bowl of pure plant-based comfort food ready in about a half-hour. One could say these noodles are “fast as lightning.”. 

KUNG PAO FIGHTING
Kung pao stir-fried ramen with tofu and peppers

2 servings of fresh ramen (about 10-ounces)
2 teaspoons sesame oil, divided
7-ounces fresh firm tofu drained, pan-fried
4 tablespoons of vegetable oil, divided
3 cloves garlic
3 slices ginger
1/2 red onion, chopped
7-8 dried Japanese chilis, de-seeded
1 red pepper, chopped
1/4 cup toasted peanuts
2 scallions, chopped
Sichuan peppercorns, crushed (optional)

Kung Pao sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
1 tablespoon black vinegar or rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 tablespoon corn starch
1/2 cup veggie stock

First, mix the sauce ingredients in a bowl until well-combined. Set aside.

Bring a pot of water to a boil and drizzle in the sesame oil. Add the fresh ramen (loosen the bundle if needed) to the hot boiling water and cook for 2-3 minutes. Drain the cooked noodle in a colander and rinse with cold water. Toss the noodles with the remaining sesame oil to prevent them from sticking together.

Cut the tofu into cubes. Set a large wok or skillet over high heat. Add 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil and heat until shimmering. Add the tofu to the pan and fry on all sides until crispy and golden, about 8-10 minutes. Transfer the fried tofu to a plate and set aside.

Add the remaining vegetable oil to the hot wok and sauté the ginger, garlic, and onion until aromatic. Continue to stir-fry the dried chili followed by peppers.

Add the tofu and half of the prepped sauce, then bring to a boil. Now, add the noodles and the remaining sauce. Using a tong or a combination of spatula and chopsticks, toss the noodles until well-coated. Ramen absorbs sauce quickly, so lower the heat if needed while tossing to ensure an even coat. Taste test and adjust the saltiness accordingly to your preference.

Fold in the peanuts and chopped scallions for the final toss. If you want to kick up the heat a bit, sprinkle with crushed Sichuan peppercorns before serving.

Posted in bushwick, comfort food, cooking, food, foodmusic, mashup, music, musicfood, noodles, ramen, ramyun, recipe, vegetarian

4 Comments

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