The Cookbook Collector: Asian Tofu + White Tofu, Sesame and Vegetable Salad

June 12, 2012

Asian Tofu by Andrea Nguyen holds a collection of 100 recipes that celebrates tofu's versatility in the Asian kitchen.  Tofu is an indispensable ingredient in many Asian cuisines and is used in sweet and savory dishes.  The cookbook is divided by tofu's many different preparations: snacks and starters; soups and hot pots; salads and sides; main dishes; mock meats; buns, dumplings, crepes, noodles, and rice; sweets and dessert.  The reader is lead through the flavors of Thailand with dishes like fried tofu with chile peanut sauce and stir-fried Thai noodles, the scents of Korea with tofu with kimchi and pork belly and the culinary traditions of Japan with miso-glazed broiled tofu as well as some modern tofu recipes like bear paw tofu and savory okara crumbles.  In addition, Nguyen devotes the beginning section of the book to teaching readers how to make a variety of soy products at home.  She includes precise directions on preparing soy milk, block tofu, silken tofu, and many more.  Asian Tofu is not merely a cookbook but a testament to one of Asia's misrepresented ingredients.


White Tofu, Sesame, and Vegetable Salad
Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish

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 (page 215) or water
12 ounces tender green beans
1 teaspoon toasted black sesame seeds, optional

1.  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.

2.  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. Seasonwith 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.

3.  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.

4.  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.

Reprinted with permission from Asian Tofu: Discover the Best, Make Your Own, and Cook It at Home by Andrea Nguyen, copyright (c) 2012. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc. Photo credit: Maren Caruso (c) 2012

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