Friday, July 13, 2018

Cold Tofu with Fragrant Oil

Hello, my darlings! Are you having a wonderful summer? A too-hot and too-much-work summer? A fuck-you-Trump summer of despair? Some combination of all of these, like me?

If you are a longtime reader, then you know that summer is kind of my family’s peak season. We only have Ben on and off—he’s with friends, he’s working, he’s moving into the world as his own person—but he’s joined us for our two trips, and it’s been so lovely and precious to be together, all four of us.

First we went to Niagara, not only to eat a fabulous horseradishy something called “beef on weck,” but also to see the falls, which blew us away with their power and majesty.

Then we went camping. And it was pretty much the best week of my life. Also, I had to read a book about the Amish (in my pajamas on the beach) in the hopes that it would explain why all the Amish people in the world were at Niagara Falls, and how they got there, but it didn’t come up.

I did, however, learn that Amish men wear a little bow tie with their Sunday best, but then they grow their beards long enough to cover it, so as not to seem vain. Somehow, this feels like a metaphor for my entire life.
But mostly I am here to share this recipe, because it is just the thing you want to eat on a hot summer night, when you feel like your family actually needs more nourishment than you can cram into another smoothie, but nobody wants to cook or eat cooked food.
Cold tofu, raw carrots, roasted cashews, and flash-fried bok choy.
It is pretty much perfect: creamy-bland cold tofu with a burstingly fragrant hot oil that sings a sputtery song of ginger and scallions when you first spoon it on. Plus, it takes about 5 minutes to make, which is just the right amount of time. Everyone in my family loves it.

This oil would be great with cold chicken or salmon, but I am feeding a vegetarian still, and also I am still cheap.

Cold Tofu with Fragrant Oil
If you don’t have or like Chinese fermented black beans, you can skip them, of course. But they add a kind of chewy umami funkiness that is both hard to understand and hard to replace—like raisins infused with soy sauce and blue cheese. Try them! Or don’t. The tofu will be delicious either way. In fact, I’ve made a way pared-down version with just the oil, scallions, and chile flakes, and even that was delicious. Please note that I am kind of cheating, adding the vinegar, which turns this into something more like "Cold Tofu with Fragrant Vinaigrette," which just sounds kind of weird.

¼ cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon finely slivered ginger
3 scallions, cut into 2-inch sections and then slivered (or, more simply, sliced into rings)
½ - 1 teaspoon red chile flakes
2 teaspoons Chinese fermented black beans, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 (12-ounce) package firm tofu, drained and cut in half lengthwise, and then crosswise into slices 1/3-inch thick
¼ coarsely chopped cilantro

Heat the oil in your smallest pan over low heat. Add the ginger and scallions and fry for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until everything is browning at the edges.

Add the chile flakes and the black beans and stir just until fragrant (about 15 seconds—you don’t want the chile to burn), then add the vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil (I measure these into a small bowl before I start cooking), and boil for a minute or two until just slightly syrupy.

Arrange the tofu on a plate or platter and pour the hot mixture over it, then top with the cilantro and serve.