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.


  1. is this intolerably bland without the chili flakes? Asking for a son (who did recently announce that he loves cilantro ... )

  2. I’m trying this! (Even though I’m Chinese and have had this so many times growing up and know there’s probably some authentic minus-balsamic recipe somewhere out there!)

    Also, have you been following the UK Trump baby and the British attempt to get Green Day’s “American Idiot” back to the top of th UK charts during his visit? It is the silver lining to a very dark cloud and totally makes me think of you. Like, I could totally picture you spearheading it if you’d somehow ended us across the pond!

    Enjoy your summer, Trump and empty-nesting notwithstanding.

  3. Looks so good I will have to hit up the market for the fermented black beans. Are your side veggies just steamed?

  4. Anonymous6:39 PM

    Hoo-wee, that looks like the right thing on these hot hot days!

    Also, a congratulations on launching a human out into the world! (I tried a couple times to comment on the last post, but phone technology got the best of me.) I'm back in "waiting for birdy" era myself, stuck on the couch under a nursing babe while his three year old brother is asking many, many questions about the promised fruit at the end of dinner.

    My husband and I read Waiting for Birdy while I was pregnant, and we cried, and laughed until we cried, so many times! And I felt it all the more, knowing that back here in real time, your Ben is a near grown man!

    Thanks for sharing your story! More please!!

    With love from Maine, Caitlin

  5. This looks delicious and I can’t wait to make it. What could I use instead of balsamic vinegar? I get a migraine from balsamic vinegar.

    1. I'd think chinese black vinegar would work well. That's what I use (along with soy sauce and sesame oil) for my son's favorite tofu sauce.

  6. Don’t have fermented black beans on hand, so trying a splash of fish sauce to try to replace that funk. will report back.

  7. Anonymous1:50 PM

    Do Amish people go on vacation?

    Yes, but the meaning of “vacation” varies. For some, a vacation means a trip to relatives in another settlement or attending an out-of-state wedding. But also popular are more traditional vacation destinations of natural beauty or historical interest.

    Today we have a look at one Amish family’s vacation from the perspective of Rebecca Miller. I hope you enjoy Rebecca’s account of her family’s trip to Niagara Falls and the activities and experiences they enjoyed.