Something possessed me while I was walking around the produce section of my grocery store. I was just putting stuff into my shopping basket without paying attention. I didn’t really know what I wanted for dinner, but there was a good deal on arugula, so I picked that up. Mint was nearby, so that also went into the basket. Ooohh, red pepper was on sale too, that’s always tasty.
It was at this point that I looked into my basket and realized that I was making a salad. I just needed to round the flavors out. Arugula is definitely one of the more bitter salads, mint is pretty unique too–that unmistakable, refreshing aroma and assertive flavor. The red pepper would contribute a bit of sweetness. Looking around I saw some dried cherries and thought that the tartness and sugars would be a nice addition (after all, on the label was written “dried tart cherries”).
Satisfied with those purchases, I looked around for something to contribute a bit more substance to the meal. I ruled out eggs. I didn’t want beef and wasn’t in the mood for chicken. I was still in the produce section and saw some containers of extra-firm tofu. I realized that I hadn’t made tofu in a while and thought that some seared tofu would be perfect.
Once back at home with my bounty, I still needed to figure out how I was going to prepare everything and look for more ways to bring even more flavor to the party. To that end, I pressed, then marinated the tofu in a sesame ginger marinade. I also reached for the standard French vinaigrette–but made a few changes: I added a tiny bit of toasted sesame oil to the vinaigrette and reduced the vinegar. Toasted sesame oil can quickly overpower other flavors, so I kept it respectfully subdued.
This is definitely a flavorful and filling salad. The arugula may not be everybody’s favorite leafy green, but I like that bitter, grassy bite it gives. The mint played off it nicely, adding some depth to the dish. The addition of red pepper (sweetness) and the dried cherries (sweetness, tartness) served to balance the bitterness and the toasted sesame vinaigrette was great with the sesame ginger tofu.
4 cups loosely packed mixed greens, mostly arugula (about 4 handfuls)
2 cups loosely packed mint (about 2 handfuls)
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 red pepper, sliced
1 block extra-firm tofu
sesame ginger marinade (I had some store bought stuff)
peanut oil (or vegetable oil or canola oil)
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil (You can increase this for more sesame flavor, but I wouldn’t put more than 1 tsp)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, minced
2 tsp vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
salt & pepper
1. Remove the tofu from the package and pat it with paper towels or a tea towel to remove excess liquid. Cut into 6 even slices and pat them again with the tea towel. Place a towel on a cutting board, then arrange the 6 slices, then place another towel on top followed by another cutting board. Place this in the fridge and put something heavy on top (like a bottle of milk or OJ). Leave alone for about an hour. The tea towel will be pretty wet from the excess liquid.
2. Once pressed, put the tofu in a 8×8 baking dish and pour the marinade over it. Flip the tofu slices over and pour more marinade on the other side. Allow to soak for about 15 minutes. Remove the tofu to a plate, wiping off excess marinade.
3. Heat a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Add at least a tablespoon of peanut oil to the hot skillet. Carefully add the slices of tofu. They may spatter because of the excess moisture/marinade–use a spatter screen if you have one. Sear for about 2-3 minutes a side, or until golden brown (reduce heat to medium if necessary).
In a large bowl, whisk the 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil, 2 tbsp olive oil, minced shallot, 2 tsp red wine vinegar, 2 tsp Dijon mustard, and a pinch of salt & pepper.
Bringing it all together
1. Add the salad, mint, and red pepper to the bowl with vinaigrette and mix to coat evenly.
2. Put 2 or 3 slices of tofu on the edge of a plate. Add the salad, then garnish with some dried cherries and pecans.