Many years ago, I was vegan. And I was rather fond of my tofu.
That was many years ago. Today, I am rather fond of my bacon. And steak. And eggs. And all manner of cheeses.
Still, every now and again it’s worth revisiting the culinary paths we walked before. I may no longer wish to abstain from things including meat and dairy, but that doesn’t mean I must in turn abstain from tofu. It is, after all, a healthy, delicious, affordable and versatile protein that — thanks to being naturally lighter than meats and seafood — is particularly good in summer.
Back in the day, I loved cutting tofu into cubes, then tossing them with chilled soba noodles and spicy peanut sauce. It was a robust, yet cool salad for a warm day. And lately I’ve found myself craving it.
But I decided to play around with the concept a bit. I wanted more flavor. And I wanted to make use of the grill to get it. The results were terrific.
One caution. It is important to search out tofu that is already smoked and baked. Not only is the flavor of this style of tofu (which are widely available in the produce/refrigerated Asian section at mainstream grocers) better, the texture is superior, as well. It has almost a cheddar cheese-like density. Conventional tofu is watery and flavorless and can be fussy to grill.
If you need a shortcut for this recipe, you could use bottled peanut sauce, but the flavor won’t be nearly as good. It would be better to make the sauce ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator, where it will keep (tightly covered) for several days.
SPICY PEANUT NOODLE SALAD WITH TOFU
Start to finish: 40 minutes
4 cups broccoli florets
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
8-ounce block marinated and baked tofu (check the refrigerated Asian section at the grocery store)
6.2-ounce package soba noodles
2⁄3 cup natural peanut butter
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
1-inch chunk fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic
Hot sauce, to taste
2 scallions, chopped
1/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts
Heat the grill to medium. Check the grates of your grill to see whether the broccoli florets are likely to fall through. If so, line a small baking sheet or metal roasting pan with foil, then mist with cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, combine the broccoli florets and about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Toss until evenly coated. Season with salt and pepper.
Place the tofu slabs on the grill. Carefully transfer the broccoli to the grill, either directly on the grates or on the prepared baking sheet or roasting pan. Grill the broccoli for 3 minutes, the tofu for 8 minutes, or until the broccoli is lightly charred and the tofu is nicely seared. Transfer everything to a baking sheet in a single layer. Place in the refrigerator to cool.
While the broccoli and tofu cool, bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the soba noodles and cook for 5 minutes, or until just tender. Drain well, then transfer to the baking sheet in the refrigerator to cool.
Meanwhile, to prepare the peanut sauce, in a blender combine the peanut butter, soy sauce, water, rice vinegar, ginger and garlic. Blend until smooth. Add a splash of hot sauce, blend then taste and adjust with additional hot sauce, if desired.
When the tofu, broccoli and noodles have cooled, transfer the tofu to a cutting board and cut into bite-size chunks. Transfer the noodles to a large bowl and drizzle the peanut sauce over them. Toss to coat evenly, then add the tofu and broccoli and mix gently. Garnish with chopped scallions and peanuts.
Nutrition information per serving: 420 calories; 220 calories from fat (52 percent of total calories); 24 g fat (4 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 37 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 7 g sugar; 21 g protein; 1,330 mg sodium.
J.M. Hirsch is the food editor for The Associated Press. He blogs at www.lunchboxblues.com and tweets at twitter.com/JM_Hirsch. Email him at email@example.com.