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.
Garlic Sesame Udon Noodles with Fried Tofu-delicious vegetarian, meatless-monday meal.
Course: Main Course
1packagefirm tofu-15 oz
2ozcanola oil-for frying tofu plus 1 tablespoon
1/2eachyellow & red bell peppers-sliced julienned
1eachcarrot-peeled & thinly sliced
1tspsambal oelek chili sauce-
2tspsweet soy saucekecap manis-
1tspsesame seeds- plus extra for garnish
3eachgreen onionssliced on diagonal (reserve 1/3 for garnish)
Cook the noodles
Cook the udon noodles in a large pot of boiling water for about 10 minutes or until tender, but still a bit chewy. Drain and rinse under cool water until the noodles are cool. Set aside.
Prepare the tofu for frying:
Drain the tofu and press dry on paper towels to remove excess moisture. Turn the block on its side and cut in half width-wise so that you have two flat rectangles. Dry again with paper towel. Cut rectangles into 3/4" strips and then into cubes.
Prep the other ingredients:
Mince the garlic and ginger.
Cut the peppers, carrots, and green onions.
In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, fish sauce, sambal, sweet soy, and water.
Fry the tofu
Heat a large wok or heavy bottomed frying pan. Add the 2 oz canola oil. Carefully add half of the cubed tofu so the pan is not overcrowded. Keep it moving and fry the tofu until it is golden brown on all sides. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon or flat strainer and drain on paper towel. Repeat with the remaining tofu.
Make the noodles:
Once the tofu is done, pour off any remaining used oil and wipe out the wok. Replace the pan on high heat and add the 1 tablespoon of canola oil and the sesame oil. Add the minced garlic and ginger. Keep it moving in the pan so it does not burn.
After about a minute, add the carrots and stir. Add the julienned bell peppers and cook for another 2 minutes until the carrots and peppers are tender-crisp.
Add the bowl with the combined sauces, mix with the vegetables and then quickly add the tofu and then the noodles. Toss to combine. Add sesame seeds and green onions and combine.
Serve while hot, garnish with extra sesame seeds and sliced green onion.
*Leave out the fish sauce to make the recipe vegan.