Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Salad with tofu

We don't eat a lot of salads around here. I grew up with salad every night at dinner, but my parents buy better vinegar than I do, and the available salad greens here (most often I see arugula, aka rocket or roquette, and baby lettuces) are often flavorful enough that they make better sandwich-filling than salad.

So I was very excited when our farmers' box last week included a large bag of the redundantly-named mesclun mix. The salad greens are sweet this winter, and looked like a lovely lunch.

I would like to make a pitch for frozen tofu. If you are going to be eating tofu raw, be sure to buy very good tofu; a local producer is absolutely the way to go. In Berkeley, a stand at Farmers' Market provides locally-made tofu. Soy beans do not grow in California; this producer imports beans from an organic farm in the midwest, where they are dried before shipping. Soy beans are ground and soaked to make a soy milk, and then calcium is added to curdle the milk. The tofu is made in presses, much like cheese.

In any case, fresh firm or extra-firm tofu is tasty as is, but for a more interesting texture, cut into half- to one-inch cubes, and freeze in a ziplock bag. Defrost by placing in an inch or two of water in a small saucepan and heating (with the lid on). Then cool off by running the boiled tofu under cold water, and over the sink squeeze out residual water. The spongy cubes are fantastic.

For my salad, I washed, cored, and diced a green apple, and combined it with a large bowl of mesclun and half a pound (minus the water) of frozen tofu. For a dressing, I combined olive oil with a touch of soy sauce and a splash of red wine, whisked with a fork, and then tossed into the salad with my fingers. Mmm good.

For salads larger than a single serving, mix the dressing before composing the salad. Add some of the salad to the large bowl, then cover with some dressing, and continue layering, mixing by hand occasionally. Be gentle: lettuces bruise easily. (As such, always use as sharp a knife as possible with fresh lettuces.) Salads should be dressed and tossed before serving; the diner technique of opening a bag of pre-washed supermarket salad and serving with a side of bottled dressing is tacky, and deprives the vegetables of the chance to soak up the dressing.

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