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Forget about meat with this crispy tofu salad

An incredibly quick and delicious vegetarian lunch for under $6

Online classes have dramatically changed everyone’s study habits — and they’ve consequently changed everyone’s eating habits as well. Working from home has pushed me to order less and cook more, but I’m still missing the convenience of a five-minute wait for my $5 bagel at Bodos and of stopping by Roots for a quick, healthy lunch. 

A staple in my fridge at school is always a bag of triple washed kale. I love it as a base for any kind of salad or lunch bowl I can come up with. One day, as I was sauteeing some kale, I found a package of tofu in the back of my fridge. I have always kept tofu in stock, but I never quite knew how to prepare it — I always ended up with a soggy and flavorless mess. 

After one of my roommates fried tofu in cornstarch, I was inspired to use up my bag of potato starch sitting around from a recipe I made months ago to imitate her work with my own additional flare. Since then, I’ve never turned back, and I stand by this recipe as the best crispy tofu salad you’ll ever taste in your life. 

Prep time: 15 minutes

Yields: 2 servings

Ingredients

For the tofu

1 package extra firm tofu

4 tablespoons potato starch

1 tablespoon nutritional yeast

1 teaspoon Korean red chili powder — regular chili powder also works

3-4 tablespoons vegetable oil 

For the kale

2-3 cups of kale 

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon olive oil

1/2 of a lemon

Soy sauce to taste 

For the sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 inch fresh ginger

2 cloves minced garlic 

Sesame seeds to taste 

1 teaspoon brown sugar 

Black pepper to taste

1 tablespoon potato starch

2 tablespoons warm water

Instructions

  1. Start by pressing the water from your tofu. This is a somewhat laborious task and can be done ahead of time by wrapping your tofu in paper towels and placing a heavy object like a frying pan on top of it for 10-20 minutes. You can also just apply pressure and regularly change the damp paper towels to speed up this process. Removing the water from the tofu allows it to crisp up and absorb more flavor during the cooking process. Once the tofu is no longer dampening paper towels, you can slice it into pieces of your desired size. 
  2. Start a few tablespoons of a neutral oil with a high smoke point — I use avocado oil or vegetable oil — in a large pan over medium heat. You want enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan in a thin but even layer. While the oil heats, grab a large mixing bowl and combine 2-3 tablespoons of potato starch with 1 tablespoon of nutritional yeast, 1 teaspoon of korean red chili powder for a little kick and salt and pepper to taste. Liberally coat your pieces of tofu in this starch mixture – adding more potato starch if necessary to coat the tofu – and place them gently into the hot oil. 
  3. Allow the pieces of tofu to cook far apart without touching one another for one to two minutes on each side until golden brown. I like to flip mine with chopsticks instead of tongs so I don’t disturb the coating. When your tofu is perfectly golden and crisp, remove it from the oil and place the pieces on a clean paper towel. Shake on a bit of salt while it’s still hot and let the excess oil drain off as it cools. 
  4. While the tofu cooks, heat up 1 teaspoon of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of sesame oil in a large pan over medium heat. Crack in some black pepper and toss in your kale. It may overflow a little, but keep stirring and coating the leaves evenly in the hot oil and it will decrease in size quickly. After the kale starts to soften, add some soy sauce and lemon juice and stir to coat. The kale only cooks for about five minutes so keep your eye on it to make sure it doesn’t get too soggy. 
  5. For your dipping sauce, add 1 tablespoon of sesame oil and two cloves of minced garlic to a small saucepan over medium low heat. Cook this for around one minute until the garlic is fragrant, then add in your grated ginger, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, a teaspoon of brown sugar and the juice of 1/4 of a lemon. Cook this for about two minutes then gradually stir in a mixture of 2 tablespoons of warm water and 1 tablespoon of potato starch. This starch and water mixture is a slurry that can be used to thicken your sauce. Stir it in a half teaspoon at a time until you reach the desired consistency. 
  6. Add your kale to a large bowl and top with some sesame seeds, arrange the tofu on top and either use your sauce to dress the salad or to dip the crispy tofu into. 

It feels like a lot of moving pieces, but each aspect of this lunch takes only a few minutes and tastes like you spent hours. The sauteed kale keeps well in the fridge, and I wish I could tell you the tofu does as well, but I’ve never had any left to keep — it’s just that delicious. I hope you try your hand at this recipe and enjoy this quick, easy lunch just as much as I do!

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