Monday, October 23, 2006

A Tofu Dish Worthy of My Favorite Soba Noodles

I have always had mixed feelings about tofu. On one hand, it is nutritious, easy to work with and lends itself to a host of different flavors. When I don’t have time to buy fresh fish or lack the will to handle raw chicken, tofu is a boon. On the other hand, I have always found it difficult to season the actual tofu, even when I toss it with fresh ginger, garlic, soy sauce and spices for a lively vegetable stir-fry. Perhaps its inherent blandness is what makes tofu useful as a blank canvas, but overcoming that blandness in a finished dish has always been a challenge for me.

Hoping to find a way to prepare tofu that would make it stand alone as a delicious, crave-able part of the meal, I tried a peanut-crusted version, spiced with the warming flavors of ginger and cayenne pepper. Mike is crazy about peanuts, and even if the lightly sautéed tofu triangles fell haplessly into the “just so-so” category, I would have an excuse to make my favorite soba noodles on the side.

This dish proves that where spices and marinades fail you, a well-seasoned coating of roasted, lightly salted nuts is the ticket to big flavor and a crisp texture that doesn’t feel like a soy version of Aunt Ethel’s jell-o salad on your tongue. The only high-maintenance prep work involved here is pressing your sliced tofu between paper towels and heavy cutting boards to extract as much water as possible. I also had to be careful not to let the skillet get too hot and watch the tofu closely, as the peanut crust can go from pleasantly roasted to blackened rather quickly.

This tofu would be great served over any rice or noodle dish, but I love these soba noodles. Made with buckwheat, they are a good source of fiber, but also have a nice chewiness and more personality than white flour or whole wheat pasta. We could eat them plain, but some soy sauce, oyster sauce for sweetness, and sesame oil drizzled on at the end creates a sauce that is too simple not to toss together right in your pasta pot. I sautéed some yellow bell pepper, white mushrooms and green onions to mix with my sauced noodles, but you could use other vegetables like eggplant or blanched broccoli and carrots.

Try this, and you might start cooking tofu because it is tasty and appetizing, not just an obligatory protein stand-in. Next, I’m envisioning a nice sesame crust, or ground almonds. Either way, the soba noodles stay in the picture.
Crave-able tofu-- it can be yours!

Sauteed yellow peppers and mushrooms for the soba noodles.

Peanut-Crusted Tofu
Adapted from Cooking Light Magazine
Serves 4

1 (14 oz.) block of firm or extra firm tofu, drained
½ c. dry roasted, lightly salted peanuts
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp. water
1 tblsp. peanut or canola oil, divided

Cut the tofu into 8 slices. Place 2 or 3 paper towels on a cutting board and set the tofu slices on top. Cover with more paper towels and place another cutting board or heavy plate on top. Let it sit for about 20 minutes to press excess water out of the tofu.

In a food processor, blitz the peanuts until finely ground. Add the garlic powder, ginger and salt to taste. Pulse a couple times just to combine. Remove peanuts to a shallow bowl or plate. In a bowl, combine the water and the lightly beaten egg. Season with salt and pepper.

Cut the tofu slices diagonally into triangles. Heat half the oil in a nonstick or cast iron skillet over medium heat. Dip a tofu triangle in the egg, and then press both sides into the peanut mixture to coat. Set the tofu in the skillet and proceed with the next piece of tofu until the skillet is full, but not crowded. Cook the tofu triangles for about 2 minutes on the first side and 1 minute on the second side, or until lightly browned. You could also coat all the tofu triangles before adding a batch to the skillet if that makes it easier. Remove tofu triangles, heat the rest of the oil and cook remaining tofu. Serve with soba noodles.

Mushroom & Bell Pepper Soba Noodles
Serves 4

½ tblsp. peanut or canola oil
1 yellow, red or orange bell pepper, thinly sliced
8 oz. white button mushrooms, sliced
1 bunch scallions, white and light green parts, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz. package soba noodles
2 tblsp. low sodium soy sauce
1 tblsp. oyster sauce
2 tsp. sesame oil
3 tblsp. cilantro, chopped

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bell pepper and cook until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and continue cooking until they are soft and the peppers are lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Add the scallions and garlic and cook for two minutes more or until most of the water from the mushrooms evaporates. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt and soba noodles. Cook according to package directions, drain and return to pot off of heat. Add soy and oyster sauces. Stir to combine and coat the noodles. Add sesame oil, toss, add vegetables and toss again. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve immediately.


Rachel said...

that looks so good! and i am not normally a "ooh, tofu" kind of girl.

peabody said...

Looks good. I love tofu so this is a nice recipe to have.

lobstersquad said...

I don´t fry, and I´m not too crazy about tofu. But the noodles are definitely going on my list.

Carrie said...

EatingWell magazine had a recipe for tofu in peanut sauce, last year? You saute the tofu in a super-hot nonstick skillet so it gets crusty, then toss it with veg, noodles, and the peanut sauce. I do crave it, and like you, not one to crave tofu on its own.

Sally Parrott Ashbrook said...

I want to make this but can't eat peanuts. What other type of nuts do you think would make the best approximation? Cashews? Almonds?

Julie said...

I think this method would work with a lot of different nuts, but to get the closest in texture and flavor, I would use cashews. They definitely have a distinctive taste, but to me, they complement the soba noodles well. Also, cashews are used in Asian cooking, especially Thai and Chinese, so you're still in the ballmark as far as Asian ingredients are concerned. Thanks for reading the blog, and let me know how this works out!

Sally Parrott Ashbrook said...

Made the version with almonds. Delicious--really loved the flavor.