Readers of The New York Times Sunday Magazine may remember the addition of “reduced-sodium soy sauce” to the meh list on October sixth. The meh list, according to the Times, is a compilation of items that are “not-hot, not-not, just meh.” Well, I thought that listing reduced sodium-soy was somewhat of a low blow, and I would like to prove to you that it is anything but “meh.”
Soy sauce has very high glutamate levels, which means it contributes a well-rounded, savory depth of flavor to recipes. It has 780mg of glutamates per 100 g of soy sauce, which puts it above the glutamate levels of most meat products such as chicken or oyster sauce. Reduced sodium-soy sauce transforms vegetarian tofu dishes, without dehydrating your dinner companions. But before you start pouring soy sauce on all the tofu you can find, take a few minutes to press the tofu, because tofu’s delicate texture needs all the help it can get.
To press the tofu, wrap it in a double layer of paper towels and place it on a sturdy plate.
Next, wrap it in a dry dishtowel and return it to the plate. If your dishtowel has all the crowns of the British royal family, all the better.
Now grab the heaviest object you can find, and place it on top of the wrapped tofu block for about half an hour. An AP Physics book is highly recommended, but you could substitute textbooks on AP biology, chemistry, or United States history. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you could probably use War and Peace or Moby Dick, but as I have not tried those options myself, I cannot vouch for their success. In case you’re wondering, a Kindle will not have the same effect.
Once the tofu is pressed and sliced, it’s lightly browned in a pan and then coated with a combination of reduced-sodium soy sauce and molasses that reduces and caramelizes on the exterior of the tofu. Once a white, bland block, the tofu is now crispy, chewy, and perfectly flavored. Some quickly pickled carrots, a simple peanut sauce, and some pad Thai noodles turn the tofu into a nutritious meal that is most definitely not “meh.” Take that, New York Times.
Tofu Noodle Bowls with Peanut Sauce
1, 14 oz. block firm or extra firm tofu
1 tablespoon reduced sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon molasses
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon canola oil
1 carrot, shaved into curls with a vegetable peeler
2 tablespoons rice vinegar, divided
4 oz. pad Thai rice noodles
A tea kettle of boiling water
2 teaspoons creamy peanut butter
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon sambal oelek (chili-garlic paste)
1 ½ tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce
½ teaspoon honey
¼ cup roasted, salted cashews
- Wrap the tofu block in a double layer of paper towels, followed by a clean dishtowel. Place the tofu on a plate and place a heavy weight on top. Let the tofu press for 20-30 minutes.
- While the tofu is being pressed, combine the soy sauce, molasses, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl and set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the carrot curls and 1 tablespoon of the rice vinegar.
- Once the tofu has been pressed, unwrap it and slice it into ¼ inch thick rectangles. Heat the canola oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, then add the tofu and let cook until golden brown, 3-4 minutes per side. Pour the soy sauce mixture into the skillet and gently shake the pan to coat all of the tofu. Let the sauce reduce, flipping the tofu after 1 minute. Take the pan off the heat and set aside.
- While the tofu cooks, bring the tea kettle of water to a boil and place the rice noodles in a large bowl. Pour about 3 cups of the boiling water over the noodles, stir to loosen them, and let sit for 5 minutes, until al dente. In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, peanut butter, garlic, sambal oelek, soy sauce, and honey. This will form the sauce for the noodles. Drain the noodles and place them in a bowl, then toss with the peanut sauce. Divide the noodles onto serving plates, top with the glazed tofu, carrot curls, and cashews, and serve immediately.
Note: If you don’t have any sambal oelek, substitute ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes or sriracha.