Stir-fried tofu and cashews with mushrooms and bell peppers

May 3, 2010 at 10:15 pm (B plus (3.5 stars, like a lot), Derek's faves, East and SE Asia, Other, Tofu, Vegetable dishes)

My brother gave me the cookbook Buddha’s Table by Chat Mingkwan a few years ago.  I immediately started paging through the book, and left it open on my kitchen table.  The next day as soon as I starting looking at the recipes the pages started falling out.  I suspected that the special “layflat binding” was to blame, but when I called the publisher they assured me that they’ve been using this binding for a long time and have had no trouble with it.  They said they’d send me another copy.  They did, but two days after I received it (and before I’d made even a single recipe) the pages started falling out! I figured it wasn’t worth trying to get a third copy.

Although lots of the recipes looked good, I never did get around to trying them.  Many of the recipes call for “vegetarian or mushroom stir-fry sauce” or other pre-made sauces, which kind of turned me off.  First, I don’t tend to have them on hand.  Second, those sauces are pretty much junk.  Thus, whenever I wanted to make something Thai I always ended up using Nancie McDermott’s Thai cookbook instead.  But last week I was determined to finally try the cookbook out.   I bought some vegetarian stir fry sauce at the local Asian shop.  I figured if I liked the recipe with the stir fry sauce I could always try to figure out how to make up a similar sauce on my own.


  • 2 Tbs. oil (reduced from 3 Tbs.)
  • 6 whole dried Thai chilies
  • 2 Tbs. minced garlic
  • 3 cups sliced mushrooms
  • 1 cup sliced firm tofu, in 1/4-inch cubes
  • 1 cup sliced onions
  • 1 cup julienned colored bell peppers (red, orange, or yellow)
  • 2 Tbs. vegetarian or mushroom stir-fry sauce
  • 1 Tbs. light soy sauce
  • 1 Tbs. sugar
  • 1 Tbs. vegetable base or 1 vegetable bouillon cube
  • 1 cup roasted cashew nuts
  • 1/2 cup sliced green onions, in 1-inch lengths
  • 3 sprigs fresh cilantro, leave only, for garnish


  1. Heat the oil in a wok over high heat.  Add the dried chilies and fry them for 1-2 minutes or until crispy.  Remove from the wok and set aside to drain on paper towels.
  2. Add the garlic to the wok and cook for 2-3 minutes or until fragrant.  Stir in the mushrooms, tofu, onions, and bell peppers; stir-fry 3-5 minutes or until the vegetables are almost tender.
  3. Add the stir-fry sauce, soy sauce, sugar, and vegetable base and stir to mix well.  Continue stir-frying until all the vegetables are tender, about 3 minutes longer.  Add the cashews, green onions, and fried chilies.  Continue cooking until heated through, about 2 minutes longer.  Garnish with the cilantro before serving.

My notes

I used a 12-inch skillet since I don’t own a wok.  I used the full 3 Tbs. of oil, even though it seemed like a lot. I’m not sure what frying the dried chilies accomplishes–I didn’t detect any heat in the final dish.  But maybe my dried chilies weren’t the right kind.  I’m not sure what “dried Thai chilies” are.

As soon as I added the garlic it started to brown.  I think after 2-3 minutes it would be burnt to a crisp!  Other than the garlic issue, this recipe worked well.  It tasted like middle-of-the-road Thai restaurant food–tasty, but not stellar.  I thought it needed more spice and more sour.  Derek, however, loved it.

Because of all the oil and nuts, the recipe is pretty calorie-dense.  The author says the recipe serves 6, but the servings would be extremely small (in terms of volume).  I think 3-4 servings is more realistic.  With 1/2 cup medium-grain brown rice, and the full 3 Tbs. of oil, one quarter of this recipe contains about 480 calories (50% from fat, 37% carbs, and only 13% protein).

Serving Size: 1 /4 recipe
Amount Per Serving
Calories 372
Total Fat 26.6g
Saturated Fat 4.4g
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 731mg
Carbohydrate 22.8g
Dietary Fiber 3.2g
Sugars 9.6g
Protein 13.7g
Vitamin A 17% Vitamin C 84%
Calcium    12% Iron 15%

Update Nov 14, 2010:

I made this again but cut the oil to 2 Tbs. and chopped the onions instead of slicing them.  I added the garlic with the other veggies.  The recipe was still barely spicy at all.  I liked that it was less greasy, but otherwise I felt the same about it as last time–tasty but not that exciting.  Derek loved it again, said it tasted like “Chinese food”.  I’d still like to figure out how to replace the stir-fry sauce with regular pantry ingredients.

Rating: B/B+

Derek: A-


  1. somethingnewplease said,

    Happened upon this while confined to a night graduate school class…. I’m incredibly hungry now. Great recipe. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Kelley said,

    I have had a similar problem with dried chilies. I figured my chilies were old and had lost their kick.
    How do you like your Nancy McDermont Thai Cookbook?

    • captious said,

      Hi Kelley,

      I really like Nancie McDermott’s Real Vegetarian Thai cookbook. I can’t believe I’ve never written a review of it! McDermott spent time in Thailand (when volunteering with the Peace Corps). Her introduction really gives you a sense of the food and food culture of Thailand. She also does a good job of helping you understand how to make Thai recipes vegetarian.

      Mostly what I’ve made from McDermott’s cookbook are curries. I’ve made all the curry pastes (red, green, yellow, Mussamun, and “quick-and-simple”). Though they’re a lot of work, they’re all tasty. I love her recipe for chili paste, and her pad thai recipe is quite good as well. (Although again, both recipes are very labor intensive.) A few of the water based soups came out a bit bland, but perhaps I screwed up the recipe. I can’t recall whether I’ve made any of the salads. I don’t think I’ve tried the desserts, or many of the egg dishes. The cookbook is small, and if you like Thai food you’ll soon be wanting to branch out beyond her recipes. But I think it’s an excellent starter Thai cookbook.

      Also, unlike Mingkwan, McDermott’s recipes never call for prepared sauces. Consequently, her cookbook is more labor intensive. Still, I think it’s worth the effort. That vegetarian stir fry sauce I bought contains: water, sugar, soy sauce, modified corn starch, yeast extract, artificial color, and “flavorings”.

  3. Two recipes from The Vegetarian Table Thailand « The captious vegetarian said,

    […] dish was lackluster.  It’s similar in many ways to another Thai recipe I’ve made:  tofu and cashew stir-fry with mushrooms and bell peppers.  But unlike that one this one has less garlic (1 instead of 2 Tbs.), less oil (1.5 instead of 2-3 […]

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