Food For The Soul: Mom’s Joyous Comfort Food Dish - Tau Kok Lup (“Diced Beans”)
Whenever I need a pick-me-up, my Mom’s delicious Chinese home-style “diced beans” dish is my go-to favorite.
Happiness is when you cooked something at home that is not only tasty and satiates your appetite, but also evokes feel-good emotions.
One such "food for the soul" item is the Chinese home-style dish that I learnt from my Mom called Tau Kok Lup (Cantonese for “diced beans.”)
It is a tasty nutritious dish that is extremely easy to make. The main ingredients are Chinese long beans (or yard-long beans) and dried tofu (the firm type), all diced and stir-fried in vegetable oil with garlic and seasoned with light soy sauce and sesame oil. Char siew (Cantonese for barbecued pork, also diced), chai po (Hokkien for preserved radish) and roasted peanuts are then added to the mix, producing a multitude of flavors including sweetness, saltiness and savoriness all in one dish.
In Chinese cuisine, Tau Kok Lup is the type of food that helps to xia fan (Mandarin for “get the rice down”) very well and hence it is traditionally a dish eaten with (lots of) steamed white rice. When my Mom used to cook it, my brothers were able to wolf down two big plates of rice each, while I'm still able to down two bowls of rice when I make the dish for myself these days.
Mom was a great cook. Like many Chinese women of her generation, she picked up her cooking and baking skills simply by watching her mother, grandmother, aunts and live-in cooks at work in the family kitchen.
Items she could cook ranged from fast-to-whip-up Chinese dishes for the family, to painstakingly-hard-to-make delicacies for annual Chinese festivals such as “love letters” biscuits (thin crispy rolled egg crêpes) for Lunar New Year and zongzi (Mandarin for rice dumplings with various fillings and wrapped in bamboo leaves) for the Dragon Boat Festival.
Of all the great dishes in her repertoire however, Mom’s version of Tau Kok Lup means the most to me not just because it is one of my childhood’s favorite comfort food, but because the dense daughter that I am could only manage to master her this one dish to perfection. It is a dish I would make whenever I need a pick-me-up or when I get tired of eating hawker food. ..
Fast to Cook, Good to Eat
Unlike Chinese home-style fried rice which you are encouraged to make with whatever leftover food and rice you may have in the fridge or kitchen, Tau Kok Lup is usually made with fresh ingredients that you either have at hand or, as usually in my case, go specifically and buy the necessary ingredients whenever I feel like making the dish.
You don’t need more than an hour to make the item which is apt for both lunch and dinner. Preparation takes about 20 minutes and cooking will take the most 10 minutes. Unless you have raw pork meat instead of barbecued pork, which will, in that case, require an additional two-to-three minutes to cook that.
Not forgetting the rice. Whether in a rice cooker or a pot over the stove, it will take about 20 minutes to cook white rice, so set that up first and it should be ready by the time you finish cooking the Tau Kok Lup items.
If you are keen to try making this dish at home (or wherever you may be where there’s a kitchen), here’s the lowdown:
Tau Kok Lup ("Diced Beans") Recipe
Ingredients: (For one person, 2 servings)
• Chinese long beans, 8 strands, cut into 1 cm lengths
• Dried tofu (firm block), 1 piece, cut into 1 cm cubes
• Barbecued pork (char siew), 100g, cut into small pieces
• Roasted peanuts, half cup
• Chai po (preserved radish), finely chopped
• Garlic, finely chopped
• Light soy sauce, 1 tablespoon
• Salt, half a teaspoon (if not less)
• Sesame oil, 1 teaspoon
• Vegetable oil, as required
1. Heat the cooking oil plus sesame oil. When hot, add the tofu and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes till golden brown. Remove and put aside.
2. Add garlic to hot cooking oil, before adding the long beans and stir-frying for 1-2 minutes. Add a dash of salt and a tablespoon of light soy sauce for flavouring.
3. Mix the tofu with the long beans, then add the char siew* and chai po, and stir-fry for another 2 minutes.
(*If you bought raw pork meat instead, cook it separately first before mixing it with the other ingredients.)
4. Transfer all items to a serving dish, and top with roasted peanuts (or you can choose to stir-fry the peanuts during #3 as well.)
Make Your Own Variation
Besides being easy and fast to cook, Tau Kok Lup is also a versatile dish as you can substitute or add to the food items with other ingredients.
For instance, you can add diced carrots, green peas or spring onions to the mix, or use other meats such as chicken or beef, or drop it altogether if you are not into meat. A friend’s mother, for instance, always use diced prawns for their family version, while another uses fried ikan bilis (Malay for dried anchovies.) Same goes for the peanuts – you can use cashews or walnuts instead, or anything crunchy if you are not into nuts. And besides white rice, the dish also goes well with brown rice or plain porridge.
Through the years, I have experimented using different food ingredients for the dish but ultimately Mom’s combination, as listed above, still provides the best mix of taste and flavours as far as my palette is concerned.
It may not be fancy or fine dining fare, but Tau Kok Lup, eaten with fluffy steamed white rice, is a delectable one-dish comfort food meal that is good not only for the soul, but heart, mind and stomach too. Thanks Mom!