Today Evan interviews Andrea Nguyen, author of Asian Tofu: Discover the Best, Make Your Own, Cook it at Home. This recipe for White Tofu, Sesame, and Vegetable Salad is a lovely template that can be adjusted seasonally depending on what vegetables are in season.
White Tofu, Sesame, and Vegetable Salad
Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish
4 ounces medium-firm or firm tofu
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
About 1/8 teaspoon salt
11/2 teaspoons sugar
About 1 teaspoon light-colored soy sauce, such as Japanese usukuchi shoyu or light (regular) soy sauce
2 tablespoons Dashi Stock (recipe follows) or water
12 ounces tender green beans
1/4 teaspoon toasted black sesame seeds, optional
1 For the dressing, break up the tofu into large chunks and put them in a non-terry dishtowel or piece of muslin. Gather it up and, standing over a sink, gently squeeze 2 or 3 times. Unwrap, transfer to a small bowl, and set aside.
2 In a small skillet, toast the white sesame seeds, shaking and stirring frequently, for 2 to 3 minutes, until light golden and fragrant. Let cool for 1 minute, then transfer the warm seeds to a small food processor. Add the salt and sugar and grind to a coarse texture. Add the tofu, soy sauce, and dashi. Process to a creamy mixture that is still somewhat coarse. (Or, use a mortar and pestle to pound the sesame seeds with the salt and sugar. Add the tofu and lightly pound and stir to combine. Stir in liquid ingredients.)
Regardless of the method, transfer the tofu to a small bowl and let stand for 5 minutes to develop its flavor. Season with salt or soy sauce, aiming for a pronounced savory and sweet finish. Resist thinning the mixture with dashi because it may dilute the flavors. The dressing may be made 2 days ahead and refrigerated. Return it to room temperature before using; if there is lots of pooled liquid in the container, pour it off. Makes about 1/2 cup.
3 Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, trim the stem ends from the green beans. Blanch the beans for 1 to 2 minutes, until bright green and still crisp. Drain but do not rinse. Let the beans naturally cool, during which they will finish cooking. Like the dressing, the beans may be prepped up to 2 days ahead. Bring to room temperature before tossing.
4 To serve, you have two options. Short and dainty beans can be presented whole on a serving plate or individual dishes with the dressing spooned across their midline like a big creamy belt; invite guests to mix the ingredients themselves. Or, cut the beans into 2-inch-long pieces and toss in the tofu dressing, coating well; divide among small dishes or offer on a communal plate. Regardless of presentation, garnish with the black sesame seeds.
Makes about 4 cups
15 to 20 square inches dried kelp (kombu)
4 ½ cups water, filtered or spring water preferred
½ cup lightly packed dried bonito flakes (katsuo-bushi)
If there is a chalky film on the kelp, resist wiping or washing it off because it contains natural glutamates. Put the kombu and water in a saucepan an set aside for 15 to 20 minutes to extract flavor from the seaweed. For greater depth, soak for a few hours or cover and refrigerate overnight.
Heat over medium heat until small bubbles break at the surface and have formed at the sides of the saucepan; some white foam floating on the surface is okay. Remove the saucepan from the heat and scatter in the katsuo-bushi. The flakes will float at the top and then start sinking to the bottom of the saucepan. After waiting 3 to 4 minutes (it is okay if the bonito flakes are still floating on the top; don’t wait too long or the stock can become overly fishy), remove the kelp and reserve for other purposes. Line a mesh stainer with a coffee filter or muslin, then strain the stock.
The stock is ready to use, or you can refrigerate it in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Sediment gathering at the bottom of the storage container is not a sign of spoilage.