This would be filed under “stuff I eat when no one’s looking,” except I’m now sharing it. I eat a great deal of tofu as a pure comfort food — that and noodle soup. When it’s cold out, I’ll pick up a cheap pack of organic tofu and chop it up to sautee with a spicy, garlicky sauce. When it’s hot, there’s no greater coolant than a salad of just fresh tofu, and maybe a few cucumbers about.
As I was eating this, it struck me how different the salad was compared to those I’ve made before because I’d haphazardly bought a firm type of tofu instead of soft. It tasted like I was sinking my teeth into cubes of fresh mozzarella — only instead of being dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, it was coated with sesame oil and soy sauce. I rather liked the taste memories of the East and West bridging together to some degree with this dish, and thought you might, too. After all, fresh cheeses like mozzarella are so similar to tofu in how they’re processed, and how they eventually taste and feel: clean, smooth, and satisfying.
Rather than studding a mozzarella Caprese salad with tomatoes and basil, I tossed in some chopped cucumbers and scallions for this tofu salad. And in addition to the savoriness and nutty richness of soy sauce and sesame oil for a dressing, I sprinkled it with a dash of rice vinegar (instead of lemon). As a finishing touch for garnish — because I had some around — I cut some roasted seaweed sheets, or nori, into chiffonades. On further thought, I could have sprinkled it with some toasted sesame seeds as well, but didn’t think of that before I’d eaten the whole bowl.
It’s funny, but whenever I see a really nice, healthy-looking, green cucumber such as these, I’m reminded of the time I once neglected to see a cucumber in my garden until it had grown into a neon-orange torpedo wedged between two planters. Then I admire that farmer’s punctuality in bringing it to harvest. It’s not that hard of a task, but it’s certainly something to amaze at once you’ve tried and failed at the same one once (albeit, I still ate the aforementioned thing). Like eggplant, cucumbers become bitter if they’re left on the vine before its real “mature” stage, which entails that yellowing. Just something to note, if you’re gardening this season.
So, if you can get down with this Asian variation of a cold, protein-rich yet summery salad as much as I can, here’s the oh-so-simple “recipe.” It’s a great, filling side dish, or snack to tide you over in between meals; best of all, it keeps fine covered in the fridge a couple days so you can dip into it any time.
Tofu Salad with Cucumber, Scallions & Nori
(makes about 3-4 side servings)
1 14 oz. block medium-soft or silken tofu, chopped to 1″ cubes
1 medium-sized cucumber, chopped to 1/2″ quarter-wedges
1 small clove garlic, minced
2-3 teaspoons soy sauce
2-3 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 scallion, finely chopped
1 sheet nori (roasted seaweed sheets), cut to thin slices (for garnish)
Combine all ingredients in a bowl except for the nori and fold together gently so as not to break too many tofu cubes. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until serving (can keep up to 2 days). Garnish with thinly sliced nori for serving.
(for 3-4 side servings)
1 block tofu: $2.49
1 cucumber (from the Greenmarket): $1.50
1 clove garlic: $0.05
1 scallion (at $2/bunch): $0.30
1 sheet nori: $0.20
2-3 tsp each soy sauce, rice vinegar, and 1 Tb sesame oil: $0.50
Three brownie points: For a light side dish or snack, this is a truly enriching way to fill up. There’s a lot of water in the ingredients, which makes it cooling and hydrating, but the proteins from the tofu are really staggering when compared to the same in weight in animal meats, and they’re free of cholesterol, too. The cucumbers are not only cooling, but will provide some Vitamin C and Vitamin K if you leave the peel on (which you can do if it’s been grown pesticide-free). Just don’t increase the sodium too much in this dish with lots of extra soy sauce or salt.
Six brownie points: The cucumbers I’d gotten were grown in a hothouse locally, since it’s quite early in the season to find those being harvested from in-ground crops. This is an efficient way to grow later-season crops such as tomatoes and cucumbers, although the extra price tag will remind you of the infrastructure that farm had to put in place to make it happen. The tofu, while organic, was not made terribly locally, although from the USA — I’ve yet to make my own tofu but have a new soy milk and tofu maker in the closet, ready for use now anyday…