For those not familiar with the versatility of bean curd, Andrea Nguyen is the best kind of eye opener. With recipes like this White Tofu, Sesame, and Vegetable Salad, she eases readers into the realization that tofu is not just a pallid meat replacer. Instead it's an ingredient to be embraced, worked into all sorts of varied dishes, acting as everything from the main event to a base for an intriguing salad dressing.
Known as shira-ae in Japan, this salad of crisp blanched green beans is dressed with a purée of firm tofu, toasted sesame seeds, umami-packed soy and dashi, and enough sugar to give it a pleasant underlying sweetness.
Nguyen prefers to keep her salad simple but we can't help wanting to try out this toasty, creamy dressing with all sorts of vegetables, especially spring asparagus, crisp radishes, or even fennel.
Reprinted with permission from Asian Tofu by Andrea Nguyen. Copyright © 2012. Published by Ten Speed Press. Available wherever books are sold. All rights reserved.
- 4 ounces medium-firm or firm tofu
- 1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
- About 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
- About 1 teaspoon light-colored soy sauce, such as Japanese usukuchi shoyu or light (regular) soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons dashi stock or water
- 12 ounces tender green beans
- 1/4 teaspoon toasted black sesame seeds, optional
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.
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.
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.
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.