One of the more conspicuous bottles on a Chinese grocer’s shelf has floating in it tiny cubes of white or chili-peppered tofu. It is tofu that has been fermented to a creamy, cheese-like texture, and has a pungent, “high” aroma and a distinctive, sharp taste. If you are 100 percent Chinese, you will enjoy it by the chopstick-full, as an accompaniment to a morning bowl of steaming soupy rice. If you are more of a gradualist, you will appreciate it in its other role, as a spirited, light glaze for stir-fried greens.
Clean, cut, and blanch the spinach as directed.
Mash the tofu to a smooth consistency, then combine it with the seasoned liquid, wine, and sesame oil, stirring well to blend.
The blanched spinach and blended seasonings may be left at room temperature for several hours before stir-frying. Hold the spinach, uncovered, in a colander.
Have the spinach and remaining ingredients within easy reach of your stovetop. Put a shallow serving bowl of contrasting color in a low oven to warm. Fluff the spinach with your fingers to loosen the mass.
Heat a wok or large, heavy skillet over high heat until hot enough to evaporate a bead of water on contact. Add the corn or peanut oil, swirl to glaze the pan, then wait 3–4 seconds for the oil to heat. Add the garlic and toss it briskly for several seconds until fragrant, regulating the heat so it sizzles without scorching. Scatter the spinach into the pan and stir and poke it for 15–20 seconds, separating the mass and glazing the pieces evenly with the oil, adjusting the heat to maintain a brisk crackling. Pour the blended seasonings evenly on top, stir briskly to coat the spinach and evaporate most of the liquid, then scrape the mixture into the bowl. Do not cook the spinach too slowly or over too low a heat or it will get watery. It should be in and out of the pan within 1 minute.
Serve the spinach hot, tepid, at room temperature, or chilled. I like it best either very hot or very cold.
Leftovers keep 1–3 days, sealed airtight and refrigerated.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.