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 14-oz. package extra-firm tofu, drained
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 4 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1-2 teaspoons Sriracha
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 teaspoons Asian (toasted) sesame oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 cups panko
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon peanut oil
  • 1 pound medium asparagus, trimmed
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2-3 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds

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.

29 comments to “Asparagus + Tofu”

  1. Beautiful pictures – this looks so delicious. I like the touch of sesame seeds on the asparagus to tie the flavor profiles all together.

  2. That crispy tofu looks great! The sesame seeds on the asparagus are pretty, too.

  3. How pretty! Now I’m seriously craving asparagus, especially covered in nutty sesame seeds. I think seasoned rice vinegar often has some sugar in the mix, so that might be adding the sweetness of the sauce?

  4. Such a great dinner! Yum!

  5. I just bought some white asparagus and have been scheming on how to prepare them. I think this will be great!

  6. I love cooking in the Spring! Little light meals are such a wonderful change!

  7. I have never thought to coat tofu with panko- and since fried anything resonates deeply with all family members here, I am going to try it out! Fabulous photos.

  8. I love that you used peanut oil. No one ever uses that anymore but it’s the best for getting extra crispiness. What’s the reason for the cornstarch before the egg? Could that be cut out?

  9. What a wonderfull dish for Meatless Monday or just a lazy easy breezy dinner. Looking forward to trying this dish out!

  10. Hi Val- I believe the cornstarch is functioning the same way that flour works with friend chicken. It gives you a dry surface for the egg wash to cling to. You end up with a more even coating of bread crumbs. You could certainly try without, but you might have issues with the bread crumbs sticking. Also, I find that the undercoating allows the breaded item to sit longer before being friend before it gets all gummy. Hope that helps…

  11. My son will go nuts for this recipe. He loves crispy tofu! Thanks for posting with the always-gorgeous photos, too.

    FYI, when I’ve tried frying tofu (and fish) in the past without a cornstarch or flour base, the egg/crumb coating often comes off in chunks as the food fries. Much better results with the initial dusting of starch under the egg, and as Tim says, also a more even coating. xo

  12. This looks great! Food section in the Milwaukee paper today featured Bountiful Bean, our Wisconsin tofu producer. Made me promise to cook something yummy with tofu, and soon, and here you are! and re:cornstarch, sometimes another starch might work, like potato? (if it’s an allergy thing.)

  13. We’re eating more tofu at my house lately, so I’m always on the prowl for new treatments…this looks like a winner. I’d probably experiment with the sauce, though. I’ve been cooking a lot from Yotam Ottolenghi’s book ‘Plenty’, which has some interesting Middle-Eastern and Asian sauce combinations.

  14. I do love crispy fried Tofu and have some Panko crumbs in my cupboard so I will be making this maybe ith a spicier dipping sauce for me & my love of chilli!
    Asparagus over here are so wonderful at the moment, really at their peak of freshness. A perfect dish and so healthy too!

  15. Looking for ways to use up the tofu in the fridge before it goes bad. I love the fried tofu appetizer at our local Japanese restaurant. I’ll try this out. Thank you.

  16. DEE-LISH-US!! I want this so bad. Your tofu looks so crispy and light and the asparagus this year? Hmmmmhmmmm good!

  17. Wow, this looks delicious! I should include more tofu in my diet and this recipe is a great place to start… thanks! :)

  18. I find myself in the same pickle year after year with Spring food- I love it, anticipate it, then (for me) kind of stare blankly in the fridge or at the produce at the market near May. This seems like a really yummy go between. Asparagus, perfect. And the tofu— something crispy and fried. Love the combo.
    Thanks so much for the inspiration, as always.

  19. Made the tofu tonight. It was a complete hit with my daughter. We are both just starting to explore tofu after many years of avoiding it so this recipe came up at just the right time. I *WILL* be making it again :-)

  20. One of my favorite restaurants here in Zürich, a vegetarian restaurant called Hiltl, has the most wonderful crispy tofu, served with cashews and mango chutney. I have a hard time paying the $25 dollars for it so I haven’t had it in a long time, but now I don’t need to daydream about it, I can make it at home! And I love the idea of pairing it with asparagus. I’ve been trying to eat as much asparagus as possible so I can be good and sick of it by the time it leaves the markets and this looks like a wonderful recipe to add to my asparagus list.

  21. What a great idea of pairing asparagus with tofu! I also find most hoisin sauces tend to be overly sweet. For that reason, I prefer Tianmianjiang, or sweet flour paste, which has a nice balance between sweet and salty.

  22. Wow! amazing combination!!!
    I really love this blog guys, thanks for sharing!

  23. I love the sesame seeds on the tofu, looks beautiful and I bet it adds a wonderful crunch.

  24. After stuffing myself silly in New York last week, this is exactly the kind of meal I’ve been craving since I got back. I’m so happy I could meet you and Brian last Thursday! You guys are great. I hope our paths cross again someday, somehow!

  25. Agreed, Kathryne! It was a fun time.

  26. Interesting tofu. Most deep fried tofu in restaurants tend to go with a corn starch or corn starch and flour coating and served with fried garlic, shallots, chilis, and msg

  27. oh man! this is something I am going to make over the weekend. I want that crispy tofu now!

  28. Stephanie says:

    July 6th, 2012 at 11:58 pm

    Hello! Your photos are outstanding! I am a late comer to this posting (and new to your blog) but better than never :)!! Do you think coconut oil could be substitutes for the peanut oil?

  29. Hey Stephanie, thanks! and yes, coconut oil is a fine substitute.

What do you think?