SUMMER CREAMY TOFU NOODLES
A DRESSING THAT IS CREAMY YET EXTREMELY LIGHTWEIGHT, WITHOUT THE DEPLOYMENT OF MAYONNAISE OR DAIRY-THICKENED PRODUCTS
What drives us? What fuels the engine that set us in motion through this open water of life? And to what extend, if any, do we understand and can we even steer this propulsion? Or are we all, in the end, simply just being moved? Because when you think about it, doesn’t the phrase “being driven” imply, in the best case scenario, riding shotgun? So are we all just passengers in an autonomous car? At this point in life, I ask myself this a lot.
Whatever it is, we are of course all driven by different things, some by ambitions, some by expectations. Some are driven by responsibilities. Some are driven by ideals. I, for one, am regrettably yet hopelessly driven by the saddest of them all — insecurities. It is, no doubt, a powerful fuel, productive even, if cultivated under the right set of circumstances. In spite of the inconvenient mandate it has issued me since birth to render all perceived informations as glass-half-if-not-almost-empty situations, it had nonetheless also dragged me through college, got me a job sort of, kept me engaged, however minimal, in some form of social productivities, being the last line of deterrence in between me and rotting unenthusiastically in an endless pit of Cheetos and ice creams.
Where it’s most relevant to the subject on this blog, it had also, with absolute authority, dictated how I cook.
As depressing as it may sound, for me, cooking is not actually about love, gathering, or even about eating. Cooking, however solitary, is a sport. And sporting is about performances. It has to stand out. It has to exceed. It keeps a score. Don’t get me wrong. I adore this sport. But as much as I feel happiness and fulfillment through this process, every time I present a dish whether here or in front of friends and families, I am not to nourish, I am to be evaluated. It’s utterly pathetic. I hate myself too as I read these sentences, but hey, I’m not driving remember? I’m being driven.
This unfortunate defect in my character has largely reduced the number of basic recipes on this blog. Quick or simple maybe, but not basic, at least not in my mind, not without some flare, some ah-ha’s, some kind of charm offensives.
But why am I babbling about this today? Because today I’m breaking a mould.
The initial objective in this recipe was to create a dressing that is creamy yet extremely lightweight, without the deployment of mayonnaise or dairy-thickened products, as an equally exciting solution to a much-presented problem as we are being harassed by the demands of summer. Credited to Brook’s Headley’s vegan chocolate ganache, the unlikely firm tofu came to mind.
The scrutiny that is imposed onto this under-appreciated Asian ingredient, often being measured against other robustly more flavorful competitors on the grocery isles, is sadly unfair and misinformed. Because tofu was never about flavor. Tofu is a textural thing. Being pressed into solids, the curds are silky and fragile on the tongue. Being obliterated in a food-processor, it becomes unexpectedly thickened, smooth and creamy. It’s the new perfect mother-sauce.
Upon identifying the subject, my insecurity immediately steered the direction towards sensationalism, something loud, something flashy, something doused in heat and spices then set on fire with lighter fuel. But something strange if not downright unnatural was happening. This time, in spite of myself, my mind kept defaulting on a childhood comfort that is neither special or bold — the very simple flavors of silken tofu dressed with soy sauce and sesame oil.
This recipe is not rowdy. It isn’t trying to make a point. It quietly invites, and it quietly receives, where it quietly untethers after that. The weightless creaminess wraps its subjects like the touches of cold satin sheets, cooling and soothing, tightens only to a gentle point by the saltiness of soy sauce, the nuttiness of sesame oil, and the soft prickling of wasabi in the nasal cavity. It is perfectly unextraordinary. It’s not how I like to cook. But it’s what I want to eat.
And believe it or not, that for only a handful of times on this blog, I’m okay with that. I consider it a triumph.
- 2 servings (about 2 small handfuls) of fresh or dry ramen noodles (see note *)
- 1 box (about 4x3x2 inch) firm tofu, such as this one
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 tsp light brown sugar
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 1/2 tbsp hon tsuyu/Japanese noodle soup base (see note **)
- 1 1/2 tsp grated ginger
- 1/8 tsp wasabi, plus more if preferred
- Toasted sesame oil to drizzle
- Finely diced green scallion to garnish
- Freshly ground black pepper to season
- Bring a large pot of water to boil, and cook the noodles according to instructions. Once done, immediately transfer into a large tub of iced water to shock and cool down. Set aside.
- Drain off of any water that comes with the tofu and gently pat dry. Break it into large pieces with your hands and place inside a food-processor. Add sea salt and light brown sugar, and run the processor until the tofu is completely silken and smooth. It should have the texture of thick mayonnaise.
- Drain the noodles extremely well, then toss them together with the tofu sauce until thoroughly and evenly coated. Mix soy sauce, hon tsuyu, grated ginger and wasabi, and spoon it over the top of the noodles (you can adjust the amount according to your liking), then drizzle generously with toasted sesame oil and garnish with lots of finely diced scallion. Give it a few turn of black pepper and serve immediately.
* In the first photo, you can see the exact type/brand of ramen noodle I'm using. This may not be available to you depending on where you live, but you can use any other types of fresh ramen noodles, dry ramen noodles, dry soba noodle, or even udon noodles.
** Hon tsuyu is Japanese bonito-flavored (and sometime kelp-flavored as well) soy sauce. It's often sold in concentrated form in bottles, which is then diluted to be used as a soup base or dipping sauce for noodles. The specific brand I'm using for this recipe is HIGASHIARU, but you can really choose any brands that is available to you, as long as it is sold as a 3x to 4x concentrate.