Tofu the Asian way

17th May, 2011 - Posted by admin - Comments Off

Tofu with cilantro-lime pesto

Back in the land of really flat states, beef is the go-to protein for any meal that’s not chicken. Soy products and tofu are looked upon with something akin to suspicion – people who eat these things and enjoy them are considered colorful at best and possibly socialists at worst. Because of these attitudes, I came late to the joys of tofu.

Tofu has an interesting reputation. It’s bland to the point of being flavorless, so it’s not great on its own. However, the blandness is a plus when it’s mixed with stranger flavors. Because it absorbs whatever it’s mixed with, it’s a great addition to Asian food – where protein is needed, but meat won’t really be missed.

Silken tofu can be used as a base for dips and sauces, but the firm variety holds up better for grilling and marinating.

Because tofu doesn’t bring much to the table flavor-wise, this is a great chance to play with really strong ingredients. The tofu in this week’s recipe is mostly here as a pesto delivery system. If tofu makes you nervous, the pesto is also great over shrimp, chicken or pork .

Pesto is traditionally made with basil, however the word “pesto” comes from the Italian root word for pound or crush. The name refers to the method, not the ingredients. What this means for us is that pesto can be made of about anything and still be considered authentic.

The fresh herbs are starting to look good right now, so blow a dollar on a bunch of fresh cilantro. Pine nuts tend to be a little pricier, but walnuts are a classic substitute – and cheaper. Where this pesto takes a left turn is the addition of lime juice and fish sauce. These two ingredients take it from Italian to Asian.

As an aside, fish sauce can be found in the Asian food section of most grocery stores. It tends to be salty, so taste the pesto before adding any additional salt, you may find it just right without it.

This entire dish comes together in about 20 minutes and is perfect as an appetizer or a light supper paired with a salad.

The main trick to achieving golden brown broiled tofu is to dry it off first. This actually applies to all proteins. Caramelization (aka browning) happens at a higher temperature than steaming. Wet food applied to heat will steam and never brown. By drying the food – with either a paper towel or by dredging in flour – the browning can begin immediately.

The tofu will take about 15 minutes or so to brown on both sides, so while that’s going on, the pesto can be made. Add all the pesto ingredients to a blender or food processor, puree until smooth. The pesto can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days or frozen indefinitely.

Enjoy with a light white wine. Pilot Peak’s Viognier pairs very well with this dish.

Broiled Tofu with Cilantro Pesto

1/4 cup mild olive oil plus additional for brushing
2 (14- to 16-oz) packages firm tofu, rinsed and drained
2 cups packed fresh cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons Asian fish sauce
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat broiler and lightly oil a shallow flameproof baking pan with olive oil.

Cut each block of tofu crosswise into 6 slices and pat dry between several layers of paper towels. Arrange in 1 layer in baking pan and brush tops of slices with more olive oil. Broil 4 to 6 inches from heat, without turning, until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

While tofu is broiling, purée cilantro, pine nuts, lime juice, fish sauce, sesame oil, sugar, remaining 1/4 cup olive oil, salt, and pepper in a food processor until bright green and smooth, about 1 minute.
Transfer tofu with a slotted spatula to a platter and serve with cilantro pesto.

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Posted on: May 17, 2011

Filed under: Dinner, Sides, Vegetarian

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