I never thought I’d like tofu. Really. There was a time in my life that I sneered at tofu as something only eaten by the tie-dyed birkenstock wearing wanna-be hippies in my university. We even had a student run food co-op on campus. So admittedly I was a little biased against tofu. I’m not sure what changed my mind. It might have been travel to places like China and Thailand and Japan. It might have been experimenting with eating vegan for 21 days (the tofu tacos are something I still eat, even though I chose not to remain vegan). Whatever it was, one day I realized, hey, this stuff is actually pretty good. When cooked right, properly seasoned, or fried with a crispy exterior and creamy interior, tofu can be a thing of beauty. Or at least an excellent vehicle for flavorful sauces and a good source of protein.
While tofu is most often consumed in lieu of animal protein, it’s not unusual to see it combined with meat as it often is in Chinese and Korean food. I recently discovered Korean tofu stew (soondubu jjigae), a fiery broth served in a hot stone bowl with soft silky pillows of tofu and your choice of meat (trust me, go for the pork). Various Korean pickled condiments are served with it as well as a raw egg to crack into the bubbling soup. It’s delicious, and the first time I had it, I fell in love with the comforting soft texture of the tofu in it. It’s all warmth and goodness in a bowl.
But enough about the soup. That’s just to illustrate the versatility of tofu. Today’s recipe uses firm tofu, fried, so you get a nice textural contrast of crispy outside and soft inside. Kind of like the perfect french fry. Plus, this way the tofu keeps its shape when tossed with the noodles and sauce. Udon noodles, if you aren’t familiar with them, are a thick Japanese wheat noodle. You can find them in Japanese markets and some supermarkets. The various sauces (fish sauce, sambal, kecap manis) can also be found in most Asian markets.
Last Sunday I made this for lunch while I was working on several different recipes. My husband declared this his favorite of the day and asked if I would make again soon. I’m not surprised because it has all the flavors most people like; the sauce a bit sweetness from the kecap manis, a hint of heat from the sambal, some saltiness from the soy and umami from the fish sauce. And who doesn’t love noodles? While it’s a perfect “Meatless Monday” dish, it would also be delicious with shrimp, chicken, or any other protein you like. Play around with the vegetables too; mushrooms, broccoli, eggplant or snow peas would also work well in the mix.
What do you think of tofu? Are you a lover or a hater? Will you try this dish? Tell me your favorite ways to eat tofu, I’m always on the lookout for new ways to try it.