Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tofu Banh Mi Salad

I've had this salad stuck in my head for a while.  It's sweet and spicy and crisp and fresh and it mimics my all-time favorite sandwich.  I've proclaimed my love for the tofu banh mi pretty loudly on this blog. Nearly a year and a half ago, I wrote up the recipe for the sandwich.  One of my first posts was just about how much I like these sandwiches, without a recipe or anything, just "Hey, you know what's a good sandwich? Tofu banh mi."  

A banh mi is pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber, jalepeno, cilantro, a wee bit of mayo or vegenaise, maybe some sriracha and some kind of protein* which in my case is always tofu.  Sweet fried tofu.  

The good rolls from the real Vietnamese bakeries are made with rice flour and are crisp on the outside and soft inside and perfect for balancing the complex flavors of this salad.  

But something about it was calling for salad-ization.  Rolls are great, but lettuce works. And a soft, crisp-edged roll might interfere with the magic act that is sweet tofu with pickled veg and spicy peppers and cilantro.  That's a lot to work with and you want to taste it all. So it was time to make it into a salad. 

Let's call this Same Dinner, Different Day, even though the other day was in April of 2011.  Please don't hold on to leftover tofu that long. 

The "hard" part is pickling the carrots and daikon, but it's not hard, it just means you have to plan ahead. If you pickle them two days in advance, you're in good shape, but if you wait a week it's even better.  I mentioned in a footnote recently that there's a mini mart in West Philly that sells not just banh mi, but pre-pickled carrots and daikon.  That's a nice shortcut.  But if you want to pickle your own veg, and come on, of course you do, my recipe for pickled carrots and daikon is here.

So let's fast forward and imagine either you went out and bought some

or you made your own using this recipe here.  Yeah, this time I used some of the pre-pickled kind that MSNDG picked up for me, but in the past I've pickled it myself.  It's a question of planning. 

Nexy is the tofu - extra firm, always.  Step 1 is to defrost your tofu, because tofu that's been completely frozen (24 hours or months, either way) has much better texture than plain tofu.  It's chewier.  Meatier.  Crisps better. It's just superior tofu.  

Marinate your tofu.  I used the very same marinade that I did when I made these into sandiwiches.  Again, Same Dinner, Different Day, so imagine you have leftover fried tofu from sandwiches,  and leftover veg. The point is that you can do up twice as much tofu and twice as much pickled veg and get two meals out of it. 

So, marinate that for half an hour or longer, then think about dredging. 

Just fill a bowl with corn starch and flip your tofu around in that. Then shake it off a bit. 

Sacrifice just one hand to the cornstarch.  You'll want a clean hand too. 

Get your oil hot.

And fry both sides until golden and crispy. A couple of minutes per side.  You'll know.

Drain on a paper towel.  Test one to make sure it's amazing.  Try not to test them all. 

Then make a salad.  

I used whatever lettuce I had on hand, plus some cucumber. 

Also the pickled veg that could totally have been the homemade version. 

Pickled jalepenos that actually were homemade.  You could absolutely use unpickled peppers here, we're just getting wimpy about heat in our old age. 

And some fresh cilantro.  This is a necessity.  Unless you hate cilantro. 

Toss all of that together and start thinking about dressing. 

Honestly, this was the only thing I had to think about at all.  The rest of it was just like a banh mi sandwich so it was easy, but dressing required independent thought.

I wanted creamy, to go in place of the light and fluffy bread that was lightly smeared with mayo.  I wanted tangy, because this salad is all about tangy. 

I started with two tablespoons of vegenaise. 

Just enough sriracha so I knew it was there but the dressing wasn't fiery.

And about a tablespoon of rice vinegar.  Use as much vinegar as you want to balance thick and creamy with pourable and tangy. 

Drizzle the dressing on right before you eat it, so the tofu doesn't get soggy. 

For the leftovers: Keep the tofu stored separately and give it a quick reheat - on a dry skillet or in the oven or toaster oven to crisp it back up before putting it on a sandwich or a salad. Also, cold fried tofu out of the fridge is a fantastic breakfast/lunch/dessert option. 

*I think that if you had asked my family, friends, and colleagues about my spelling, they'd have said I was a good speller.  Above average.  Then I started writing a blog and it became evident that I was completely incompetent.  Seriously, after trying to spell sriracha eight times (even while Googling) I just failed at protein.  i-before-e except in protein? Is that the rhyme?  Crappy rhyme.  Also fiery?  That makes no sense.  

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