Noodles are always the answer. Or at least they’re the answer when you’re facing the extensional dread that comes with living through a pandemic. Noodles are a carb you can trust. Chewy, slurpable, and an easy vehicle for any sauce you can dream up. Shelf-stable and available in a variety of widths, noodles might just be the winning quarantine carb. But to be honest, if you forced me to choose between noodles and rice, there would be more than a pregnant pause. I’m not entirely sure which I would choose and I don’t want to choose so don’t ask me. Today is all about the noodles, though. Specifically these Sambal Peanut Tofu Noodles with Yu Choy.
A Different Kind of Comfort
I’ve decided spicy peanut butter is my comfort food. Honestly, if Sichuan peanut butter existed in stores, I would spread it on my toast every single morning and finish it with a drizzle of honey. As evidence, I put forward my Gochujang Lentils spiked with, you guessed it, peanut butter and my proudest accomplishment, my red curry peanut satay sauce. When the world falls down, you could leave me with nothing but a bottle of sriracha and a jar of peanut butter and I would be happy as a clam. Although I have no idea how happy clams actually are. I’m not even sure if they’re sentient. But that’s beside the point.
The point is these Sambal Peanut Tofu Noodles are yet another example of my brain’s propensity to throw hot things into peanut butter. And while it may seem like a strange source of comfort when there are things like chips to be had, I think you’ll find it makes a little sense. I mean, the creaminess of the peanut butter tempers the heat, while the heat breaks up the rich nuttiness of the peanut butter. It’s a win/win. Indonesia knows what I’m talking about. And you know what? I have a hunch that you might too.
A Case for Shredded Tofu
Now, let’s address the strangest step in this recipe – shredding extra firm tofu. I can’t say I’ve seen other people do this and I’ll admit it makes me a little nervous. Flying solo in the culinary world doesn’t tend to happen all that often. Most times if you haven’t seen someone else do it, there’s a very good reason why. But I have been replacing ground meat with shredded tofu for a while now and I have yet to uncover any adverse effects. So, I’m going to keep on shredding and I suggest you do too.
Will this shredded tofu trick you into thinking it’s ground meat? No, it will not, but it is its own enjoyable thing. The texture is close enough and it’s magic at absorbing any flavor it comes into contact with, like say, a sambal peanut sauce.
The shredded tofu works especially well with a peanut-heavy sauce. Shredded tofu will never have the fat content of ground beef or ground pork. Fat is just not tofu’s bag, so it’s hard to build an unctuous sauce with tofu and seasonings alone. Enter peanut butter. Rich, oily, and loaded with plant-based fat, peanut butter is the binder tofu can never be.
Yu Choy, Cabbage, and Potential Substitutes
A word on greens. I used Napa cabbage and yu choy to bring a little greenery to my spicy peanut-heavy world. But I chose them because they were the greens I had on hand. As far as the yu choy goes, feel free to swap it out for bok choy, broccolini, or even sugar snap peas. You could wilt some spinach into the sauce and I wouldn’t be the least bit mad. Just get your greens in somewhere.
Now, let’s talk about cabbage. You may recognize the Napa cabbage from the K-Mex Quesadillas I posted last week. It takes perseverance to make your way through a head of cabbage. Thank goodness they’re so resilient in the fridge. But say, you don’t have a Napa cabbage, you have a savoy cabbage or a green cabbage. That’s great! Throw them in. The only variety I would hesitate to add is red cabbage. It’s purely an aesthetics thing, red cabbage will dye the sauce and that seems kinda gross. But if you do have red cabbage, you can still use it in this dish. Forgo the recipe’s earlier call for cabbage and shred your red and add it as a garnish at the end. I think it would be smashing. If you don’t have cabbage at all, just skip it and everything will be okay.
Put the “Noodles” into Sambal Peanut Tofu Noodles
Okay, last component – those all-important noodles. I used dried ramen noodles I got at my local Asian grocery. They aren’t the instant kind and there was no dried soup base to discard. Having said that, you could totally use instant ramen noodles – nothing wrong with that. And if you’re opposed to food waste of any kind, you could even stir the seasoning packet into the sauce. It would probably taste good, but you might want to walk the soy sauce back a bit, these little packets pack a powerful sodium punch.
Quarantine Cuisines Approved
In these uncertain times, there are a few things to hang your hat on. Peanut butter, even the natural kind, will live in your fridge for a good long while, dried ramen noodles will make you smile and live in your pantry indefinitely, and tofu has raw meat beat in a few ways. Tofu is, duh, vegetarian, so you can feed it to anybody. It’s a great source of protein, but so is meat, so it doesn’t quite have it beat in that respect but oh well. And tofu has a very forgiving expiry date, so you don’t have to freeze it like you do raw meat. And in an era when our freezers are fit to bursting out of necessity, that is a very good thing.
So, that’s everything you need to know about these Sambal Peanut Tofu Noodles. They are the perfect sweatpants meal. And since that’s mostly what we’ll all be wearing for while, these noodles have never been more appropriate.
Sambal Peanut Tofu Noodles with Yu Choy
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 small yellow onions diced
- 3 stalks celery halved lengthwise and cut into quarters
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 (1½-inch) knob ginger minced
- 1 brick extra firm tofu patted dry and shredded
- 1/4 head Napa cabbage chopped
- 2 cups low sodium vegetable stock
- 3 tbsp sambal oelek
- 2 tbsp honey
- 1 tbsp tomato paste heaping
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup natural crunchy peanut butter
- 2-3 red chilies thinly sliced
- 250g (9oz) yu choy rinsed and cut into thirds
- 270g (9.5oz) dried ramen noodles
- 1/4 cup dry roasted peanuts
- 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves tightly packed
- Pour the oil into a large, deep skillet. Heat until shimmering. Add the onions and celery and reduce the heat. When the onions start to release their liquid, add a pinch of salt. Saute until just translucent.
- Stir in the garlic, ginger, and tofu and saute until fragrant. Stir in the cabbage and toss to coat.
- Pour the stock over the tofu and veggies. Stir in the sambal oelek, soy sauce, tomato paste, and honey. Increase the heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and let cook uncovered for 15 minutes.
- While the sauce is simmering, whisk the cornstarch into the water to form a slurry. Once the 15 minutes have passed, pour the slurry into the sauce and stir until the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in the peanut butter. Stir in the red chilies and cover to keep warm.
- Place a large pot of water over high heat. Place a steaming basket on top and add the yu choy to the basket. Once the water is boiling, lift the basket and place the noodles in the pot. Cook the noodles according to the package's directions. My noodles took 4 minutes to cook and by that time my yu choy was a brighter shade of green and tender. If your noodles require more time to cook, remember to pull the yu choy before your noodles are done.
- Drain and rinse the noodles and divide them among four plates. Add a few pieces of yu choy to the plate and a generous spoonful of the sauce. Top the dish with dry roasted peanuts and fresh mint leaves. Serve immediately.