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Yes, it’s tofu again! I’ve spoken more than a couple of times before about how tofu for us is both go-to staple for meat free meals, and also something that everyone enjoys. This is another quick to cook tofu weeknight meal, though it probably has too many ingredients, albeit pantry ones, to count as truly speedy. Unlike most of the tofu meals we eat, the tofu is crumbled, rather than being sliced or cubed, which is a nice change, and perhaps particularly worth trying for those who are unconvinced about eating it in chunks! Of course if you are one of those people who’s adamantly not a tofu lover, you could use pork mince instead, and I gather the recipe I drew this from was adapted from an original pork mince recipe.

One of the things that sometimes discourages me from making stir fries is the huge amount of washing and chopping of vegetables. Compared to your average stir fry, then, this recipe has almost no chopping – you slice a couple of cucumbers, slice spring onions, and chop ginger and garlic – that’s it, and you could buy the ginger and garlic pre-crushed. So the combination of flavours here largely comes from pantry ingredients, all of which are now readily available in a large supermarket, except perhaps for the sesame paste. The combination has a bit of everything – hot, sour, salty and umami, with a tiny touch of sweetness.

The texture is quite different from the way we usually do tofu, hence all the process photos above. The tofu is left to brown much like you would beef mince, and turned and pressed until most surfaces are browned and crisp. As it cooks, the water levels reduce further, so it will reduce in volume as well as browning. When you add the sauce to the crisp tofu, it reduces and coats the tofu as well as being absorbed by it, and is also thickened by the cornflour, resulting in a wonderful complex flavoured thick sauce that is contrasted beautifully by the crisp fresh cucumber as well as the crisp chili. The tofu is there largely for texture in fact, so while if you’re a tofu fan you have to try this, if not, give it a try anyway, and you might not even know it’s there!

Crisp tofu with cucumber and noodles

Adapted from a Bon Appétit recipe

  • 60ml soy sauce
  • 1 Tbs light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 Tbs Chinese sesame paste (zhi ma jiang)
  • 1 Tbs toasted sesame oil
  • 3 tsp Chinkiang vinegar
  • 1 Tbs Laoganma crispy chili oil, plus more for serving
  • 2 large or 3 small Lebanese cucumbers
  • 125ml unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp cooking salt or 2 tsp flaky sea salt
  • 500g block extra-firm tofu
  • 1 1/2 Tbs cornflour
  • 3 Tbs rice bran oil
  • 2 spring onions
  • 3 cm piece ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 300g ramen or other dried wheat noodles

If you have time, freeze the tofu until solid and then defrost overnight. When ready to cook, combine first five ingredients plus one Tbs chili crisp in a small bowl with 125ml water. You will probably need to mash some small lumps from the sesame paste to make it smooth.

Using a mandolin (preferably) or sharp knife, thinly slice the cucumbers and mix with the rice vinegar and salt.

Drain the tofu and crumble into pieces, squeezing out excess water. The freezing will make it easier to crumble and extract water. Toss in a bowl with the cornflour. Slice spring onions, crush or finely chop garlic, and grate or finely chop ginger.

Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan over high heat. spread out the tofu, pressing down on it and and turning in sections as pictured above until well browned. Add spring onions, garlic and ginger, and stir for a couple of minutes until aromatic.

Add liquid ingredients, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thick and reduced. While sauce is cooking, cook noodles in boiling salted water as directed on packet. Drain when cooked.

Serve tofu on noodles topped with drained cucumber and extra chili crisp.

Serves 4