Spicy Warm Silken Tofu with Celery and Cilantro Salad


[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Yeah, a big hunk of browned meat can look great, but a warm bowl of seasoned tofu can be just as sexy, dontcha think?

This recipe is about as easy as it gets, but complex in its flavors, with a balance of heat, sweetness, and bracing acidity from chili oil, sugar, and Chinkiang vinegar. That vinegar, which can be found at pretty much any Asian grocer, is absolutely essential to the flavor of this dish. Chinkiang vinegar has a fruity, almost sweet complexity akin to balsamic vinegar, with plenty of acidity, but not the harsh hit of white vinegar or a European-style wine-based vinegar.

So emulsify the dressing and get it thick enough to stick to the slick silken tofu, I use a bit of tahini. If you choose, you can grind sesame seeds yourself in a mortar and pestle for even better tasting results. In a pinch, a touch of peanut butter would work in its place.

The salad on top consists of celery, scallions, and cilantro. Soaking them in ice cold water will help plump up their cells, making them extra crisp and crunchy—a really great contrast to the soft, warm tofu underneath.