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Asparagus + Tofu

I spend a lot of time waiting for spring, and feeling excited about the food that will be available in our markets. But when warm weather finally gets here I find myself wanting to sit in a park or  hang out with friends and my kitchen becomes a bit of a ghost town, at least for the first few weeks of spring. The food I do make is simple and not worth sharing here—a basket of strawberries, a salad. It takes a while to find balance in this new season and to resume taking the outdoors for granted.

Asparagus had been waiting patiently for a few weeks before I finally brought some home. I was glad I did and recipes like this one are perfect for this time between seasons—simple, fresh, and delicious. The fried tofu is a good compliment to the fresh asparagus and the meal doesn’t really require anything else, though you could add some brown rice if you wanted a little starch.

One note, I found the sauce a little too sweet for me. Hoisin varies by maker, but what we had in the fridge was sweet, sweet, sweet. If that is your case, I would substitute some of it with soy sauce. And really, the sauce should be adapted to your tastes. I certainly added more hot sauce than what was called for.

Crispy Tofu with Sesame Asparagus (adapted from Fine Cooking [1])

Slice the tofu in half crosswise. Slice each half once on the diagonal, lay cut side down, and cut each vertically into 3 slices, to make 12 triangles. Arrange the slices on double-thick layers of paper towels and press to remove as much moisture as possible. Repeat as necessary to dry the tofu well.

In a small bowl, whisk 1/2 cup of the hoisin sauce, 3 tablespoons of the vinegar, and the sriracha. Taste, and when you are happy with flavor, set aside.

In a shallow dish, lightly beat the eggs with the remaining 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce and 1 tablespoon vinegar, 2 teaspoons of the sesame oil, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Put the panko and cornstarch in separate shallow bowls. Lightly season the tofu on both sides with salt. Dredge each piece of tofu in the cornstarch, shaking off the excess, then in the egg mixture, and then in the panko, setting the triangles on a plate as you finish each one.

Heat 1/4 cup of the peanut oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add half of the tofu triangles and cook, turning once, until golden and crisp, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate, and season lightly with sea salt. Repeat with the remaining tofu.

Wipe out the skillet, add the remaining tablespoon of peanut oil and return to medium-high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the asparagus, and cook, turning, until crisp-tender, 1 to 5 minutes (I like mine barely cooked). Add the remaining 2 tsp. sesame oil and toss well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Serve the tofu and asparagus with the dipping sauce on the side.