Summer is winding down but no one told the humidity that. If I could use one word to describe Toronto’s current climate that word would be “swampy”. So if there was ever a time to bust out a bowl of cold noodles, it’s now. I’ve been down this road before. This time a couple of years ago, I was slurping on a cool bowl of chilled noodle soup. But this year I ditched the soup, swapped the noodles for Cold Kimchi Noodles (Kimchi Bibim Guksu), and found some Peanut Crusted Tofu. This isn’t just noodles, this is a bountiful bowl of spicy pickle-y peanut bliss.
There is something about pickles and peanut butter. That hit of vinegar paired with the classic creamy, vaguely sweet spread just makes the heart go pitter-pat. Well, some hearts. For others, the combo enlivens their gag reflex. But happily, I am not among them. Back in 2018, the New York Times tweeted a “recipe” for peanut butter and pickle sandwiches and users of the Internet collectively lost their minds. Some were pleased to see their favorite midnight snack immortalized in a storied publication, while others were disgusted. They likened the sandwich to some of the New York Times more questionable recipes, like Brussels sprout sliders and sweet pea guacamole.
While I can agree that adding peas to one’s guacamole is objectionable and clearly a desperate attempt to be “different”, the peanut butter and pickle combo is not that. This flavor combo is old. The PB&P is a depression-era sandwich. So no, the New York Times wasn’t trying to push the envelope in some stupid and unnecessary direction. It was reminding us of a flavor combo that was at one time engrained in everyday life. And you know what? It’s good. Peanut butter with pickles is good. Don’t think it’s a joke just because “pickles” is a funny word.
But why am I talking about this? Well, today’s Peanut Crusted Tofu with Cold Kimchi Noodles shares some common flavors with that classic and divisive sandwich. Just swap the bread and butter pickles for kimchi and the peanut butter for, well, peanut butter.
This isn’t the first time I’ve added peanut butter to Korean-inspired dishes, perhaps this lentil dish rings a bell. And I feel that I should point out this is not traditional. Koreans do not typically serve their kimchi with a side of peanut butter. But for me, the two do go together. Each ingredient is, of course, delicious independently of one another and capable of branching off in opposing directions, but they are pretty tasty when they interact. I’ve said elsewhere that spicy peanut butter should be a stand-alone condiment and this pairing is pretty much an extension of that wish.
The idea for the Peanut Crusted Tofu comes from a half-remembered dish from my childhood. It wasn’t anything gourmet. It was the kind of thing my mom would make when she’d had a long week. The dish was roasted chicken legs coated in a sort of peanut-y Shake n’ Bake situation. I can’t remember the brand but it was definitely applied in the same fashion as Shake n’ Bake. And if you’re wondering, I did occasionally help.
The crushed peanuts in the packaged chicken coating were covered in a sort of mildly spicy curry powder that turned the chicken fire hydrant orange. I remember loving that chicken and I have been looking for a package of the stuff ever since I moved out on my own. I doubt it will taste as good to me now as it did then, but sometimes you just have to know in order to break the fantasy. Sometimes you have to confront your favorite childhood foods, wonder what on earth you were thinking, and release the craving. In other words, this chicken and I need closure. But alas, I can’t find the stuff, so I took what I remembered about it and applied it to tofu.
I’m fairly certain that this Peanut Crusted Tofu is superior to that dang chicken. It starts with extra firm tofu slathered in a rich and spicy peanut sauce. The tofu is then tossed in a breading of crushed peanuts, cornstarch, gochugaru, and panko breadcrumbs. Then, of course, it is fried. It’s so so good, not half-remembered chicken good because what is, but really damn good.
From there all that remains is to top the noodles with a hard-boiled egg and some cooling cucumber. And that’s everything you need to know about this Peanut Crusted Tofu with Cold Kimchi Noodles. It’s the perfect cool down dish for the dog days of summer. Simple to prepare, easy to slurp, and impossible to resist.
Peanut Crusted Tofu with Cold Kimchi Noodles
Cold Kimchi Noodles
- 400g (14 oz) uncooked somen noodles
- ½ cup kimchi coarsely chopped
- 2 tbsp gochujang
- 2 tbsp honey
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
- 2 tsp sesame oil
Peanut Crusted Tofu
- ½ cup natural crunchy peanut butter
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 ½ tbsp kimchi juice
- 1 tbsp ginger minced
- 4 tsp gochugaru divided
- 1 brick extra firm tofu cut into 8-10 slices
- ½ cup unsalted roasted peanuts
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 mini cucumbers sliced
- 2 large eggs hard boiled
- 2 tbsp black sesame seeds for sprinkling
For the Noodles
- Bring a large pot of water up to a boil. Add the noodles and cook until tender. This should take about 3-4 minutes. Keep adjusting the temperature of the stove to prevent the pot from boiling over.
- Once the noodles are cooked, drain and rinse them under cold water. Place them in a large bowl along with the kimchi and set aside.
- In a small bowl whisk to combine the gochujang, honey, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and sesame oil. Pour the sauce over the noodles and toss to coat. Cover the bowl and chill in the fridge until ready to serve.
For the Tofu
- Place the peanut butter, garlic, honey, soy sauce, kimchi juice, ginger, and half of the gochugaru in a bowl and stir to combine. Toss the tofu in the sauce so it's completely coated. Cover the bowl and transfer it to the fridge. Leave the tofu to sit for 1 hour.
- Once the hour has passed, place the peanuts in a food processor. Blitz until the peanuts resemble fine gravel. Transfer the peanuts to a bowl and add the panko breadcrumbs, cornstarch, salt, and the remaining gochugaru. Whisk to combine.
- Place the tofu in the peanut mixture and toss until fully encrusted. Transfer the breaded tofu to a plate and set aside.
- Pour about an inch of neutral oil in a non-stick skillet and place over medium heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add half of the tofu and fry until crispy on both sides, roughly 3 minutes a side. Transfer the finished tofu to a cooling rack place on top of a baking sheet and repeat with the remaining tofu.
- Once all the tofu is fried, transfer it to a 150°F oven to keep warm until ready to serve.
- Divide the noodles across four bowls and add 2-3 slices of tofu to each bowl. Top the noodles with cucumber slices, half a hard boiled egg, and a sprinkling of black sesame seeds. Serve immediately with beer.