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guys, i think i’m really on an asian kick. like, i might need to take a trip to asia sometime soon (except that i hear things are cramped and crowded and hot and potentially smelly and just the thought of a place like that makes my OCD-ness kick into high gear…oh wait, i just described most of new york city).

i came across this recipe for general tsp’s tofu on pinterest last week, and figured i might as well try it while i was on my whole “mix sesame oil and soy sauce and ginger and good things will happen” kick. what do you know? this stuff is GOOOD. and would be even better on some deep fried chicken pieces. no offense, tofu, you know i really like you a lot, but i think it’s better that we just be friends. chicken and i are in a serious relationship, and it ain’t complicated.

if you’re a vegetarian, you’re gonna looove this dish. if you’re not, you’ll love it too – just make it with shrimp or chicken. the sauce is made separately, so you can throw it onto whatever you want.

note: the original recipe calls for a good amount of sriracha, and i can’t handle spice – so i cut it down substantially, and just threw in a little squirt to my sauce. if you’re into spice, go for it, but buyer beware! that ish is on FIRE.

The Recipe

tofu:

12 oz extra firm tofu, cut into cubes (i buy mine at trader joe’s)

1 tbsp corn starch2 tsp vegetable oil (i use canola)

sauce:

3 cloves of garlic, minced

2 tsp grated ginger

2 tsp vegetable oil

1/4 cup water

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp hoisin sauce (warning: this stuff is like crack)

1 tbsp rice vinegar

1 tbsp brown sugar

1 tbsp sriracha (i used just a squirt, remember)

additionally:

1 tbsp corn starch + 2 tbsp water

veggies of your choice

1 cup white or brown rice

to make the tofu, preheat your oven to 400 and toss tofu cubes with 1 tbsp of corn starch in a bowl. make sure they’re evenly coated on all sides. cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spritz with a layer of nonstick spray. spread your tofu cubes out on the baking sheet and bake 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and slightly crispy to the touch.  

meanwhile, cook your rice. white rice is generally a 2:1 ratio (two cups water to one cup rice). brown rice is too, but it takes longer to cook (usually around 40 minutes), so i prefer white in a pinch.

while you’re baking the tofu, make your sauce. cook your diced ginger and garlic in a medium saucepan for a few minutes, then add the other ingredients listed under “sauce” above and cook for another few minutes. mix the remaining water and corn starch in a tiny bowl, and pour it into the sauce mixture slowly. stir until it’s evenly integrated and your sauce is thick and slightly chunky. i know that’s gross, but that’s what it should look like. see picture. 

take out your tofu from the oven and toss it with your sauce. serve it over rice and top with a bunch of sauteed veggies. i chose zucchini and purple cabbage (i just sauteed them in a few teaspoons of soy sauce and sesame oil). throw some  sesame seeds on top and dig in.

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this recipe couldn’t be more perfect for those scorching summer days where you think that if you dare to turn on your oven you might just die. in new york city, kitchens are small and central AC is something that us peasants don’t get to even dream about. it’s a luxury reserved for rich folk and suburban people. so you can imagine that regular oven use in the summer isn’t exactly something i fantasize about. that being said, i love to eat. and i can’t live without baked goods. so i suck it up sometimes and sweat my way through a batch of chocolate chip cookies – but you won’t catch me roasting a chicken in the middle of july. 

because i can’t handle the heat, but want to stay in the kitchen, i consider myself lucky that i adore salads. as in, give me some mixed greens and some salad dressing and i’m a happy girl. throw in some toasted walnuts and goat cheese and you’ve got me praising the heavens for the party going on in my mouth. but you know what i really love, when it comes to salads? an asian chicken salad. you know, the kind they serve at every restaurant under the sun, usually with some variation of “crunchy asian noodles” (so stereotypical) and some sort of sesame dressing. i’m a big fan of the asian chicken salad at panera, and on a classier note, also the one at spring street natural, in soho. to the point where it’s the only thing i’ve ever ordered at the restaurant (and i’ve eaten there at least five times). 

so you can imagine my glee when my daily “everyday food” (courtesy of martha, of course) email arrived in my inbox the other day promising a healthier version of my favorite restaurant salad. HALLELUJAH PRAISE THE LORD. a healthier asian chicken salad! the perfect lunch meal! the perfect summertime staple. GIMME GIMME GIMME. 

the other night, it was hot in my kitchen, and i didn’t feel like poaching chicken (which is what the recipe recommends). so i swapped out the chicken for marinated tofu, and boy, am i happy i did. it made the salad even lighter, and i didn’t have to wait for the chicken to poach (i was feeling impatient). 

it took me about ten minutes to make the tofu, another 5 to toss the salad ingredients together, and voila – i had a dinner and the next day’s lunch ready to eat. so, want to make this crunchy, fresh deliciousness for yourself?

let’s do it.

The Recipe (adapted from Martha’s Asian Chicken Salad)*

For the salad:

  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice (from 3 limes)
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 4 cups shredded red cabbage (about 1/2 medium head)
  • 1 cup shredded carrots (about 2 large)
  • 1 cup chopped pineapple
  • 1 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 cup lightly packed fresh mint leaves
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted for extra crunch
  • 1 block tofu (i get mine extra firm at trader joe’s)
To make the tofu marinade:
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoons ponzu (citrus-y soy sauce, check your local speciality store, it’ll be next to the soy sauce)
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger
to make, combine all marinade ingredients in a bowl and whisk together. saute tofu with a bit of sesame oil in a skillet and let it get a bit of a skin on all sides, about five minutes. while it’s cooking, chop the rest of your salad ingredients (pre-chopped carrots make a huge difference here) and throw them together into a bowl. whisk the salad dressing together: lime juice, sesame oil, soy sauce and sugar. set aside. toast your almonds slightly in the toaster or in a skillet. watch them – they burn easily!  Image
 
when your tofu is golden on all sides, throw in the marinade and cook for an additional few minutes, until it’s mostly absorbed. toss the tofu onto the salad, and toss all with the dressing. sprinkle with the toasted almonds and serve immediately.
 
note: you can easily feed four people with this as a side dish, or two heartily as a meal. consider saving 1/2 of the salad and 1/2 of the dressing to take for lunch the next day. because the carrots and the cabbage are super crispy, it won’t wilt down like ordinary lettuce would, making it a great leftover meal. 

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i know many people think tofu is the pits – a weird, slightly gelatinous, unflavored blob of boring – but over the years, i’ve really come to love my good friend bean curd. on nights when i can’t bear to cook much of anything, i love to whip up a quick stir fry, and having tofu on hand ensures that i’m always getting protein in there with my veggies. eating tofu makes me feel like a healthy person. you know, something to make up for all the sweets i’ve constantly got sitting on my counter, taunting me, like this: “EAT ME, SARAH. I AM A TOFFEE CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE BAR AND I AM SOOO GOOOD.”

tofu, on the other hand, is made from soy. which means it’s healthy. and yes, it’s unflavored, and yes, it looks extremely weird in its basic state. but the fun thing about unflavored things? you get to add the flavor. the world is your oyster when you’re cooking with tofu, because you can manipulate it any which way you damn please. it’s freeing, really, when you think about it.

the other day, i was really craving this amazing tahini dressing that they serve at haymarket cafe in my hometown, and I decided to get crafty and make my own. I wanted mine a bit more lemon-y, so I adapted Mollie Katzen’s recipe. if molly’s name sounds familiar, it’s because she’s the brains behind the new moosewood cookbook. growing up, my parents loved that book. my mom’s a big fan of healthy people food items such as lentils and chickpeas and what have you, and was always turning to moosewood for recipes. it’s one of the first cookbooks i remember seeing on our counter on a regular basis, so i was excited to rework Katzen’s recipe to make it my own. it was almost like delving back into my childhood, except without the lentils. Image

there are a million and one recipes out there for lemon tahini sauce. some people add miso, some don’t. some people like lots of lemon juice, others react like this when the word lemon comes up. i for one love me some lemons, especially in the spring, so my recipe was verrry lemon-y. i also added soy sauce instead of salt, mostly because i didn’t have miso and i love soy sauce on just about everything. luckily, it added just the kick i was looking for, instead of ruining the entire recipe.

SO – let’s start at the very beginning, which sister maria tells us is a very good place to start. 

The Recipe

Serves 2. Double the tofu and broccoli portion if you’d like to feed a family of four. 

1/2 container of extra firm tofu (the firmer it is, the less gross it is, in my opinion)

1 head of broccoli

3 tsps oil (i use canola since it can withstand high heats)

2 cloves of garlic, minced

To make the tahini sauce:

3/4 cup sesame tahini (you can generally find this in health food stores)

6 lemons, juiced 

1 clove of garlic, minced (add more if you like things really garlicky)

2 tsps soy sauce or tamari

3/4 cups to 1 1/2 cups water

start with the dressing. place the tahini, garlic, soy sauce and lemon juice in a blender and whizz until combined. start to drizzle in the water slowly, mixing as you do. add water until you’ve reached your desired consistency. i like mine somewhere in between sauce and dressing – like goldilocks, not too thick and not too thin – but you do your thing. once you’ve reached your desired consistency, transfer to bowl if using immediately, or a container if you’re going to save it. i put mine in a small ball jar and refrigerated it for two days before i took it out for use. it can stay in the fridge for up to two weeks, and you can always add more water at a later date to thin it out a little.

next, heat your oil in a skillet. while it’s heating up, cut your tofu into bite-sized cubes. once the pan is hot, throw the tofu cubes on the skillet. appreciate the sizzle, you’re on your way to becoming a master chef. cook for about 3-5 minutes on each side, until the tofu is browned nicely. while it’s cooking, cut up your broccoli and dice your garlic. again, you want bite sized piece. of course, feel free to use bigger ones, but don’t call me crying when you can’t fit that baby in your mouth. once your tofu is a nice toasted golden brown, throw the broccoli and garlic into the skillet. if you need to, add a tiny bit more oil. cook until the broccoli is slightly crisp and bright green. 

remove from heat, serve either alone or on top of a bed of the grain of your choice (i like brown rice, but quinoa would be yummy too), and drizzle with your tahini sauce. voila, a healthy meal! look at you, you healthy eater! i can’t believe you’re eating tofu! 

note: you’ll have plenty of lemon tahini sauce left over. stick it on salads, dip pita bread into it, or drizzle it over wheatberries. this sauce pulls double duty, so use it liberally as you see fit.