Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Golden Sesame Tofu

Several years ago I posted a recipe I developed for Golden Sesame Tofu, one of my favorite salad bar items from Whole Foods. At $8.99/lb. it's a little pricey, so I went to the kitchen and experimented. Here is the recipe I came up with. The recipe and photo were posted on my old blog, DianaCooks.com, and since it was a super popular post, I decided to repost it here with a watermarked photograph. (I notice the photo gets pinned a lot on Pinterest.)

I trimmed the first part of the post off because it was irrelevant to the recipe. Enjoy the trip on the wayback machine. ;-)


OK, recipes. I said I'd start posting them, and here's something you soy-eating vegetarians will like. Last year, I became addicted to the golden sesame tofu in Whole Foods' prepared foods case. These rectangular slices of tofu are fried until they're golden, then covered in toasted sesame seeds and glazed with a slightly sweet/salty sauce with just a hint of heat from hot red pepper flakes. They're also kind of expensive -- something like $7.99 a pound (ETA: now $8.99). Since tofu's cheap--and so am I--I decided to replicate the recipe at home. It took a few tries, but I think I've nailed it.

I'm pretty sure the Whole Foods' folks fry their tofu in lots of oil, because all six sides are crisp/chewy. I just use a little oil and fry on two sides. I've also used a silcone basting brush to lightly coat each side of the tofu with oil, then cooked them on a grill pan. Yum, but it doesn't give the tofu that chewy coating I like. If you're watching your fat intake, you can skip the cornstarch dusting and bake the tofu in a 350 degree F oven for 20 to 25 minutes with the sauce, turning the tofu every 10 minutes or so, checking that the sauce isn't burning (add water if it's getting too dark). The tofu will have no chew at all, and the sauce will get thick and sticky, but it's still yum.

Instead of stuffing these slices of tofu in my mouth like I do when I'm at Whole Foods, I pack them in a plastic container and store them in my fridge for lunches. I cut them up into tiny cubes to add flavor interest to salads -- when I put them on top of a potluck salad at Easter, tasters asked me about the delicious croutons ... umm, I didn't have the heart to tell them. This wasn't a tofu-loving crowd. They also make great sandwich stuffers.

Golden Sesame Tofu
Yield: 4 servings

The Whole Foods version has scallions in it. I'm not a huge fan of scallions, so I skip them. The secret here is the cornstarch ... it gives the tofu its chewy coating, but you have to sprinkle it over the tofu evenly and with a light hand; otherwise it'll get gloppy. Since I make this recipe a lot, I put cornstarch in a fine-mesh shaker; it gives me excellent control when I'm coating the tofu. You'll find toasted sesame oil and mirin in the Asian sections of well-stocked supermarkets.

1/4 cup raw sesame seeds
14-oz. extra firm tofu
1/4 cup cornstarch
Canola or peanut oil, for frying

For sauce:
2 tbsp. agave nectar (for vegans) or honey
3 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. minced fresh ginger root
2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp. mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine)
2 garlic cloves, minced
Dusting of crushed red chili flakes, to taste

Heat a fry pan over medium-high heat. Add sesame seeds and toast until golden and fragrant, stirring frequently. Remove pan from heat and place sesame seeds in small bowl to cool.

Remove tofu from package and drain. Press the tofu gently between the palms of your hands to squeeze out water, then wrap the tofu in paper towels, place it on a plate, then put a another plate on top of it. Place a 28-oz. can of tomatoes or a cast iron fry pan on the plate. This will press out any remaining water from the tofu. Let sit for 20 minutes or so.

Unwrap the tofu and slice into eight rectangular slices. To make even slices, I slice the block of tofu in half, then half each half, and then half each quarter. Make sense? Then dust the slices with tofu evenly with cornstarch on all sides.

Heat about 2 tbsp. of oil in your fry pan over medium high heat. Add the tofu slices, but don't crowd the pan. You might have to fry in batches. Fry until the tofu is a light golden color, approximately 2 minutes, then turn the tofu over to cook another 2 minutes on the other side. Remove to drain on paper towels. If frying in batches, add more oil to the pan. Note: it is normal for the tofu to splatter, so wear an apron if you don't want to ruin your clothes.

While the tofu is frying, stir together the agave nectar/honey, soy sauce, gingerroot, sesame oil, mirin and garlic together in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until slightly syrupy, about 5 minutes or so. Remove from heat and set aside.

Place tofu in glass container to hold. Pour sauce over tofu and turn to coat. Dust tofu with toasted sesame seeds and turn again to coat. Season with crushed red chili flakes. Can be served warm or chilled. Will keep for about 5 days refrigerated.