Nasci Pear Salad, Crispy Tofu & Wasabi Dressing

Japanese Style Salad & Crispy Tofu 1This year’s Barbecue Season is, at least for the casuals amongst us, slowly approaching its end. This is causing a huge variety of BBQ’ish goods to flood stores, butcher’s shops and markets like you wouldn’t believe. One thing I’ve encountered in truly obscene amounts recently is Tofu – styled, chem-bombed, colored and shaped to work out as a meat substitute. One ridiculous specimen I’ve found in a store nearby was a brown’ish kind of tofu-goo wrapped around a bone’ish type of theoretically-edible-don’t-worry-about-it, looking like a cartoon version of a drumstick from hell, sporting a label along the lines of: „Almost tastes like real meat! Almost feels like real meat! Even with real skin and bone-marrow substitutes, flavored to almost taste like the real thing!“

I’m a carnivore. A conscious one, but still… In my book, those absurd concoctions are not just a health hazard, but also an insult to both the chicken population of our planet and the actually quite wonderful product that’s been misused for stuff like that, giving tofu a really bad name around these parts. I happen to like tofu, at least as long as it’s not forced on me as „meat substitute“. If you have as much as a tiny peek at any of the asian cuisines, you can find absolutely delicious dishes and countless techniques using tofu in ways that have nothing to do with what’s done to it outside of that area most of the time. One of those techniques gave one of our favorite salads a whole new dimension, turned into something else entirely even. I’ve discovered the idea of crispy tofu in the snacks section of a japanese cookbook a couple of years back, where it was serving as the general equivalent to a movie-time bowl of chips. Never having heard of tofu being crispy before, I decided to replace the smoked salmon on my Nasci Pear Salad with it one evening. While I still wouldn’t set down a bowl of fried tofu chips on the table for a movie night – simply because I’m a popcorn kind of girl – these yummies have provided many a crunch to our salads since that first experiment. Even if you’re somewhat leery of all things tofu, I’d recommend giving this one a try~! Or to sub it with smoked salmon and enjoy the play of the pear and the wasabi in a more… conventional way.

Japanese Style Salad & Crispy Tofu 3


The Dressing

1-2 Tsp Wasabi Paste
½ Tsp Fish Sauce
4 Tbsp Rice Vinegar
1 Tbsp Soy Sauce
2 Spring Onions, white and light green parts only, cut into thin rings
2 Tbsp Grapeseed Oil

1) First, since the wasabi paste can be a bit resilitent to attempts at dissolving it, place it in a small mixing bowl and add the rice vinegar. Use a whisk to dissolve the paste in the vinegar and check for any remains of the paste that may be sticking to the bottom or sides of the bowl before moving on.
2) Add the fish sauce, soy sauce and oil and use a whisk to combine all of the ingredients.
3) Have a taste and adjust the seasoning. It’s supposed to be on the punchy side of things since the nasci pears and the tofu balance it out later, so don’t worry too much if the wasabi goes waltzing right through your sinuses to the back of your head.
4) Add a pinch of brown sugar if the wasabi is much too strong for your liking though. Although pain and pleasure go close together when it comes to anything horseradish-related for me, I know it’s not everybody’s cup of tea.

Japanese Style Salad & Crispy Tofu 2

The Salad
200g Firm Tofu, cut into very thin strips
Alt: 200g of your favourite Smoked Salmon
Rapeseed- or Peanut Oil for frying
Opt: Roasted Sesame Oil
2 Nasci Pears, peeled, cored and finely sliced
100g Daikon, finely julienned
200g Mixed Salad Leaves
Opt: ½ Bunch of Coriander, leaves only
¼ Nori Sheet, cut into thin strips
2 Tsp Sesame Seeds, toasted
2 tsp (or more) pickled Ginger slices, finely chopped
Togarashi Pepper to taste
Salt

First off, when I was shopping for this one, I found myself looking at several packs labeled „Firm Tofu“ at the asian food store nearby. Since I’m not that familiar with the different types of tofu, I brought both back home, just in case. When I opened them, one block was.. well, what I’d call „firm“ – almost solid to a light squeeze and dry’ish in a sponge-sense of the visual, crumbling at a more forceful squeeze. The other one made me wonder if I hadn’t picked up a soft tofu instead, springy and well.. wet, with liquid oozing out of it at a light touch. Well, it looked like I had an impromptu experiment ahead of me. Skipping over the mess I’ve made in the process, here’s the result of it: While the really firm tofu turned out as it was supposed to, the softer one pillowed up in the oil, which, while that made it useless for this salad, turned out as yet another quite delicious version of tofu – a crispy fried skin around a really soft and creamy interior. Completely wow’ed by that result I used that one as a topping for a veggie stir-fry a couple of times since then. I really recommend giving that one a go… just not today. Today’s all about the crispy tofu chips, so here goes:

Japanese Style Salad & Crispy Tofu 4


1)
To remove any excess moisture, place the tofu slices on a fine meshed cooling rack or a large cutting board. Cover them with 2 layers of paper towels and place a second, preferably heavy, cutting board on top. If you don’t have a cutting board of the heavy kind at hand, place 2-3 tins or something else on top to add to the weight. Set this aside for about an hour.
2) Set a large, heavy-based pan onto medium-high heat and add about 2cm of heat-resistant oil to it. Rapeseed or peanut oil work wonderfully. To add some seasoning at this stage, you could add just 1-2 tsp of roasted sesame oil to the pan as well, to boost the nutty aromas without being overpowering.
3) Bring the oil up to temperature – to check if it’s hot enough for the tofu, send a crumb of it swimming in the oil. If it starts to dance around and sizzle, the oil is at the right temperature.
4) Carefully let 4-5 slices of the tofu slide off a spatula into the oil. I’d like to stress the „carefully“ at this point – the tofu, while not dripping wet anymore, still holds a large amount of moisture, which will cause the oil to bubble up and spit at you. Keeping your distance and adding the pieces in slowly and from a low height will minimize the risk of droplets of oil burning your hands.
5) Do this in batches. As usual, overcrowding the pan would lower the heat inside too much for the oil to do it’s job properly, resulting in soggy, oily goo nobody would enjoy eating.
6) The time the strips need to crisp up and take on color, depends on how thin you were able to cut them. I intentionally varied the size of the slices to test this – the time in the pot ranged from 5 to 10 mins. Just have an eye on them and flip them over from time to time. They’re reaching the end of their time in the pan when they start to change color and curl around themselves a bit. The really thick pieces, by the way, puffed up like the softer tofu as well, but unlike that one, they didn’t melt on the inside as beautifully. They simply fell in on themselves when I took them out of the pan, and turned rock-solid.
7) Place the crisped up strips on a cooling rack lined with a paper towel, sprinkle them with a pinch of salt and togarashi and cover them with a second paper towel to soak up excess fat and keep them crispy while you’re finishing off the rest.
8) Arrange the pears, salad leaves, coriander leaves and ginger slices on your plates.
9) Add the daikon matchsticks – to give them an extra dose of crunch, pop them into a bowl filled with ice cubes and water for a couple of minutes before sprinkling them on top of your salads!
10) Drizzle the servings with the dressing before distributing the tofu on top. This is best done just before serving to keep the salad and the tofu from turning soggy in the meantime.
11) Top everything off with the sesame seeds, nori slices and another sprinkling of togarashi right before serving.

Japanese Style Salad & Crispy Tofu 5

Enjoy!

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