soba noodle salad with crispy fried tofu

This recipe is adapted from Heide Swanson’s site, which is brimming with easy to make healthy recipe ideas. John made this salad a few months ago, and it’s been on my mind ever since. So today, April 7th and 88 degrees in Boston, seems the perfect time to revisit a refreshing salad. First, this dressing. Absolutely delicious. It’s the lip smackingly, bring your bowl back for seconds, kind of yum. There’s a little heat from fresh ginger and cayenne, some zip from lemon zest and rice wine vinegar, and a dab of honey to round things out. The original recipe calls for only cucumber, cilantro, and scallions in with the soba noodles, but I took the liberty of adding a few sliced radishes and some quick blanched asparagus that were kicking around in my crisper. Anything with a good crunch would be just lovely. The scallions and cilantro work as the aromatics here, but if cilantro’s not your thing substitute with torn basil leaves or fresh mint.

On the Tofu: 101 Cookbooks calls for frying off the tofu in a dry skillet to brown the outside. I took a page from John’s book and skillet fried mine with some canola oil and a dousing of tapioca starch to give it that extra crispy exterior. Tofu is kind of insane done this way, and I highly recommend it. But if you want to keep this on the lighter side, by all means skip it.

On the Noodles: I used the part wheat part buckwheat soba noodles here from Eden Organics. Any soba noodles will work, except be sure to avoid the all buckwheat variety as they are super gummy and difficult to work with.

For the Dressing
the zest of 1 lemon
1 inch cube piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 tbsp honey
3/4 tsp cayenne
3/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup soy sauce (use a high quality wheat free brand)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp toasted sesame oil

Combine the lemon zest, ginger, honey, cayenne, and salt in a blender and puree until the consistency of a paste. Add the lemon juice, vinegar, and soy sauce and mix until well combined. With the blender running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil and sesame oil. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

This dressing keeps well sealed and refrigerated for up to a month, so I recommend doubling the recipe and keeping a jar of this on hand.

For the Salad
8 oz dried soba noodles
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cucumber, peeled (if you like) and thinly sliced
2-3 radishes, washed and thinly sliced (optional)
3-4 stalks of asparagus, tough ends removed and roughly chopped (optional)

12 oz extra firm tofu
1/2-3/4 cup tapioca starch (or use corn starch)
canola oil for frying

more cilantro and toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Bring a medium pot of water to a rolling boil and cook the soba noodles until tender (5-6 minutes.) Drain, rinse well with cold water, and set aside. If you’re using the asparagus, you can toss it in for the final 30 seconds that the soba noodles are cooking to lightly blanche, and then rinse it in cold water along with the noodles. Alternatively, blanche it in a separate small pot of boiling water for 30 seconds and then immediately rinse or submerge it in cold water to stop the cooking process.

While the noodles are cooking, slice the tofu into 1/2 inch thick pieces and pat each slice dry with a paper towel. If the tofu’s particularly wet, squeeze out the excess water with your hands. Pour about 1/4 inch of canola oil into a heavy skillet and set the skillet over medium-high heat. Pour the tapioca starch on a dinner plate, and dredge each piece of tofu in the starch to coat both sides. When the oil is hot (this should take only 2 minutes or so), carefully place the dredged tofu slices in the skillet and cook 2-3 minutes until golden on the bottom. Using a metal spatula, carefully flip the tofu slices and continue cooking an additional 2-3 minutes to brown the other side. Be very careful as you turn the tofu to avoid splattering hot oil – use the sides of the pan to ease the pieces in and out of the oil. When golden on both sides, remove the tofu from the oil and drain on paper towels. Season with a little salt, and slice into strips.

To assemble the salad, toss together the cool soba noodles with all of the veggies and about 2/3 cup of the dressing. Top with the tofu slices, cilantro, and the sesame seeds. You may want to drizzle a little dressing over the tofu slices just before serving, but don’t do this too early to avoid ending up with soggy tofu.


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