If you’re not much of a tofu fan, there is a chance this Hoisin Tofu Salad could change your mind. I am a huge tofu fan, particularly when it comes to extra firm tofu. It has a satisfying texture, is capable of taking on just about any flavor, and is as cheap as chips. Personally, I find it as satisfying as meat. And while that may not be true for you and is potentially blasphemous to suggest, I still think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by this tofu. Why? Because it’s hands down the best tofu I’ve ever made and I’ve made a lot of tofu. So if you’re game, let’s make it.
Let’s break down all the components of this bowl. First and foremost you have the Hoisin Tofu. When I tell you this stuff is full-volume flavorful, I mean it. But we’ll get to that later. The tofu is snuggled up with perfectly sharp ribbons of pickled carrot accented with jalapeño rings. Both the carrots and tofu are served on a bed of shaved red cabbage and torn frisée lightly dressed with sesame oil, lime juice, and a pinch of salt. There are so many bold flavors going on in this bowl that it made sense to keep the cabbage and frisée a little understated.
Okay, so we’re going to kick things off with the pickled carrots because they need time to, well, pickle. You may have noticed there are a lot of quick pickle recipes on this website. That’s because they are my go-to when I want a hit of acid in a dish. And they are my go-to because they are simple to make, require very pedestrian ingredients, and leftovers keep very well in the fridge. Oh! And you can put them on pretty much any dish and really make it sing.
Now, the process for making a great quick pickle is straightforward. I used a vegetable peeler to cut my carrots into ribbons. But you could julienne them if you prefer. I just really love the look of veggie ribbons, but I will be honest, they are a little fussy to cut. Once your carrots are cut to your satisfaction, pile them into a bowl and add a thinly sliced jalapeño. Aside from being great pickles themselves, jalapeños imbue the carrots with an addictive amount of heat. If you’re not a spicy food human, feel free to omit them.
Now, grab a saucepan and pour in rice wine vinegar and water. To the liquids add sugar, salt, and two bay leaves. If you would like to give the pickles a particular flavor, this is the time to add your aromatics and/or whole spices. Place the saucepan over medium heat and simmer until the sugar dissolves. Pour the mixture over the carrots and that’s pretty much it. Set your carrots aside to pickle and give them at least 2 hours to do so. If you want a less intense pickle, leave the carrots for less time. If you’re in the market for a very pickley pickle, leave your carrots to pickle overnight in the fridge.
With the carrots done, it’s time to turn our attention to the tofu. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to marinate tofu for long periods of time to make it taste like anything. I find a simple, quick braise to be the most effective way to flavor tofu intensely and quickly. You can, of course, marinate the tofu for a few hours or overnight in the braising liquid if you wish. But if you’re short on time, it’s no problem. Just braising the tofu in this delicious concoction for 15 minutes is enough to make it spectacular.
I like to make my braising liquid close to the beginning of the recipe, so it’s ready to go when I am. In a small bowl, mix to combine garlic, ginger, sake, soy sauce, honey, hoisin, and a kiss of sesame oil. Once the liquid is ready to go, slice your tofu into evenly sized-pieces. I opted to go with large triangles, so I could cook them evenly. If you prefer to cube the tofu, go for it. But remember the smaller you make your tofu pieces the more difficult it will be to keep track of them.
First, sear your tofu pieces on both sides. Take your time here. Make sure the tofu is nice and golden on both sides, this is where the tofu will get most of its color from. And don’t attempt to flip the tofu too early. It will likely stick to the pan and tear. Once the tofu has formed a nice golden crust, it should release from the pan easily. Be patient. Once the tofu is gloriously golden, pour the braising liquid over the tofu and bring it to a boil before reducing it to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes, turning the tofu frequently. The tofu should be glossy and the braising liquid should reduce to a thick syrup.
From here it’s all about building your ideal Hoisin Tofu Salad. And there is a lot of room for experimentation here. First, choose your favorite leafy vegetables to make up the bulk of your salad. I went with red cabbage and frisée. But you could choose napa cabbage, romaine, swiss chard leaves, bok choy, really anything you fancy. But whatever you choose, dress it simply. I went with sesame oil, lime juice, and a little salt. There are so many big flavors going on in this bowl between the carrots and tofu, over dressing the greens will send your palette into overdrive. The leafy veg is more there for texture and it will take on the vinegar from the pickles and the hoisin glaze from the tofu.
And that’s everything you need to know about this Hoisin Tofu Salad with Pickled Carrots. It’s got acid, depth, and a boatload of veggies. Just the sort of thing you need to get you through a bleak winter work week.
Hoisin Tofu Salad with Pickle Carrots
- 1 small saucepan
- 1 Large skillet
- 1 mandoline
- 1 large carrot peeled and shaved into ribbons
- 1 jalapeño sliced thinly
- 1 cup rice wine vinegar
- ½ cup water
- 1 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger minced
- ¼ cup sake
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp hoisin sauce heaping
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 2 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp neutral oil I used canola
- 1 brick tofu sliced into triangles
Hoisin Tofu Salad
- ¼ head red cabbage shaved thin
- ¼ head frisée torn into bite-sized pieces
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 lime juiced
- ½ tsp salt
- ⅓ cucumber cut into batons
- 4 radishes julienne
- 1 batch Pickled Carrots see above
- 1 batch Hoisin Tofu see above
For the Pickled Carrots
- Place the carrots and jalapeño in a small bowl and set them aside.1 large carrot, 1 jalapeño
- Pour the rice wine vinegar, water, sugar, and salt into a small saucepan. Add the bay leaves and place over medium heat. Simmer until the sugar dissolves.1 cup rice wine vinegar, ½ cup water, 1 tbsp granulated sugar, 1 tsp salt, 2 bay leaves
- Pour the vinegar mixture over the carrots and let cool to room temperature. Cover and let pickle for at least 2 hours. **
For the Tofu
- Place the garlic, ginger, sake, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, honey, and sesame oil in a bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.1 clove garlic, 1 tbsp fresh ginger, ¼ cup sake, 3 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp hoisin sauce, 1 tsp sesame oil, 2 tbsp honey
- Heat the oil in a large skillet until shimmering. Add the tofu and sear on both sides until golden. About 3 minutes a side. ***2 tbsp neutral oil, 1 brick tofu
- Pour the hoisin mixture over the tofu and bring it to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, flipping the tofu frequently. Take the tofu off of the heat and set it aside.
For the Salad
- Place the cabbage and frisée in a large bowl and add the sesame oil, lime juice, and salt. Toss to coat.¼ head red cabbage, ¼ head frisée, 1 tbsp sesame oil, 1 lime, ½ tsp salt
- Pile the cabbage mixture into bowls and top with the radish, cucumber, tofu, and pickled carrots. Serve immediately.⅓ cucumber, 4 radishes, 1 batch Pickled Carrots, 1 batch Hoisin Tofu