Sunday, April 25, 2010

Cold Sesame Noodles with Grilled Tofu and Asparagus

We've had a fantastic time the last week or so, catching up with visiting friends and then visiting in our turn. Today was our down-time day and we managed somehow to rest well and to get a lot done. Bliss. It was also our first opportunity to break out the Weber Q and eat outside.

Canales Farm comes to our farmers' market in late summer with gorgeous watermelons, and in Spring with asparagus. I've never been a huge fan of asparagus, but when it's this fresh and tender, even I have a hard time resisting. This year is the first one that Elspeth has really decided she's a fan. (I got a big kick out of her eating an adult-sized pile of them and calling them 'fat minnows', quoting Beatrix Potter's Jeremy Fisher).

The sesame noodles recipe comes straight from Cook's Illustrated September/October 2004, though we doubled the recipe and will freeze any leftovers.

The marinade for the tofu comes from our friend Melanie. I've never had much success with tofu marinades, but this one will be repeated. It's very simple and I'm sure we'll change it over time, but it is nicely salted and I think that the nutritional yeast adds just the right savory note. The tofu could also be baked if you don't want to use the grill. After the tofu had finished marinating, we rolled the asparagus in the sauce and it worked very well. That's the nice thing about using a vegetarian protein source--the marinade isn't contaminated.

INGREDIENTS FOR THE SESAME NOODLES
1/2 c. sesame seeds
1/2 c. crunchy peanut butter (we like Woodstock Farms)
4 cloves garlic , minced or pressed through garlic press
2 TBSP minced fresh ginger (the ginger made it a little too spicy-hot for our toddler, so I'd reduce in future)
10 TBSP soy sauce
4 TBSP rice vinegar
2 tsp hot pepper sauce (such as Tabasco)--we omitted
4 TBSP packed light brown sugar
Some hot water
2 TBSP toasted sesame oil
8 scallions , sliced thin on diagonal
4 medium carrots, grated
Enough Asian noodles (we used Trader Joe's udon noodles) for your family

DIRECTIONS
  1. The sauce can be made as much ahead a time as you wish, which is handy. Toast sesame seeds in a skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 10 minutes. Set aside 1 TBSP for garnish
  2. In a blender, process the remaining sesame seeds, the peanut butter, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, vinegar, hot sauce, and sugar until smooth, about 30 seconds.
  3. With the blender running, add 1 TBSP of hot water at a time until the sauce has the consistency of heavy cream (about 5 TBSP)
  4. Set sauce aside
  5. Set a pot of water to boil when you are getting ready to cook the tofu and asparagus
  6. Once it's boiling, add some salt and follow the package directions to cook the noodles
  7. When done, drain the noodles and run under cold water until cool to the touch
  8. Toss with the sesame oil
  9. Use the reserved sesame seeds, the grated carrot and the scallion as a garnish. We used lots of extra carrots because we like them
  10. Serve with grilled tofu and asparagus (below)
INGREDIENTS FOR THE TOFU/ASPARAGUS
One block firm tofu
1 one-pound bunch of asparagus, washed and snapped
1/4 c. soy sauce
1/4 c. olive oil
1 TBSP nutritional yeast
1 clove garlic, grated or put through a press
1/2 tsp curry powder or other spice
2 TBSP sesame oil

DIRECTIONS
  1. If you have time, you can drain the tofu and then press it to remove even more liquid. We didn't bother but still found that the tofu really took on the flavor of the marinade well
  2. Cut the tofu into triangles or squares. I cut mine into 16 pieces
  3. In a medium dish (8x8 works well), mix all the remaining ingredients (except the asparagus, of course)
  4. Lay the tofu pieces in a single layer in the dish and then turn over so each side has touched the marinade
  5. Leave the tofu for at least a few minutes, or even better, half an hour
  6. Turn the tofu and let rest for another period of up to half an hour
  7. If oven-baking the tofu, preheat the oven to anywhere between 400 and 450 degrees (this allows you to be flexible if you need to cook something else along with the tofu). If grilling, preheat the grill
  8. Remove the tofu from the marinade and place in a single layer on a baking tray if using the oven, or put on the grill. Roll the prepared asparagus in the marinade and cook along with the tofu.
  9. Bake the tofu for 30 minutes--if baking the asparagus, I think it wouldn't take that long--or cook on the grill, turning once or twice, until it has a nice crust and until the asparagus is cooked
  10. Serve alongside or on top of the sesame noodles