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I love tofu: firm or silken, smoked or plain, freshly made or pre-packaged, I'll happily take them all. I also like meat (in moderation). And I happen to really, really like tofu and meat together, as in, in the same dish.
If this pairing seems incongruous to you, then you've probably missed out on many of the best dishes that Asian—particularly Chinese—cuisines have to offer. Although in America tofu has acquired a pretty poor reputation for being the wan, tasteless, colorless and textureless ingredient that gets subbed in for meat in such unfortunate products as Tofurky, Asian cooking takes a different stance altogether. It's a revered ingredient, one whose smooth texture and clean flavor is as at home nestled into a medley of vegetables as it is sitting shoulder to shoulder with, say, some pork...shoulder.
Rather than attempting to substitute tofu for meat, Asian recipes often place the two together in a harmonious, balanced relationship that allows both ingredients to shine. Some of Asia's most well-known dishes, such as Chinese mapo dofu, Korean kimchi jjigae, and Filipino tokwa't baboy all call for a pairing of meat and tofu.
So, it was from Asia that I took my cue when creating this mutt of a dish incorporating both chicken (only three small thighs) and firm tofu with Chinese vegetables and Japanese noodles. The broth sparkles with fresh ginger, garlic and lemongrass, plus a subtle hint of sweetness from star anise, and is loaded with tender bok choy and nutty-tasting, slippery soba noodles. It's an excellent and easy one-pot meal for the frigid nights ahead.
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