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Tantalizing Tofu

Yes, I’m well aware that ”tantalizing” isn’t a word that one often associates with tofu.

After all, a brick of white soybean curd is not something that gets a whole lot of people excited. Not like an In-N-Out burger done animal-style, or Ad Hoc’s beautifully crisp fried chicken, or a glorious Red Velvet cupcake.

No, tofu doesn’t elicit that kind of impassioned response. But it should. It’s a versatile, inexpensive protein that’s low in calories that we all would do well to eat more of in these lean and mean times.

To that end, I offer up this beauty: “Warm Tofu with Spicy Garlic Sauce,” which has got to be one of the easiest dishes around.

It takes only minutes to prepare on a hectic weekday. It’s so simple, yet revved up with the bold, addicting sauce flavored with soy sauce, toasted sesame seeds, garlic, and green onions. Korean red pepper flakes are also in the mix. Italian red pepper flakes are an easy substitution. There’s also a hefty 1 tablespoon of Asian sesame oil in the sauce. Since the sesame oil is so pronounced in this dish, you’ll want to be sure you have a fresh bottle to use, not one that’s been in your cupboard for months that may have turned rancid. If in doubt, spend the money on a new bottle.

The recipe is from the March 2009 issue of Gourmet magazine.

Warm a slab of tofu in a pot of simmering water. Remove it, pat it dry, then spoon the sauce over the top. That’s it.

The custardy tofu soaks up all the salty-nutty-spicy flavors. With steamed rice, it makes for the simplest side dish or light entree with  stir-fried greens.

It’s one dish that just might make you go gaga for tofu.

Imagine that.

Warm Tofu with Spicy Garlic Sauce

(serves 8 as a side dish in a family-style meal or 2 as a light entree with rice and vegetables)

1 (14-to 18-ounces) package soft tofu (not silken)

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

1/4 cup chopped scallion

2 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted and crushed with side of a heavy knife

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil

1 teaspoon coarse Korean hot red-pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Carefully rinse tofu, then cover with cold water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then keep warm, covered, over very low heat.

Meanwhile, mince and mash garlic to a paste with a pinch of salt. Stir together with remaining ingredients (except tofu).

Just before serving, carefully lift tofu from saucepan with a large spatula and drain on paper towels. Gently pat dry, then transfer to a small plate. Spoon some sauce over tofu and serve warm. Serve remaining sauce on the side.

Notes: Sauce can be made 1 day ahead and chilled. Bring to room temperature before using. Tofu can be kept warm up to 4 hours.

From the March 2009 issue of Gourmet magazine

Round out your Asian feast with:

Edamame Shiso Salad with Yuzu Vinaigrette

Miao Pork with Corn and Chiles

Wok-Charred Long Beans with Black Olives