The easiest way to cook tofu is to quickly blanch it, then season with salt and sesame oil and fold in a handful of finely chopped scallions or fresh herbs. This preparation, called liangban, is minimal and yet divinely tasty. My favorite version of this dish is with toon (xiangchun), a savory, onion-garlicky leaf common in southern China, and after some tinkering, I found that the combination of basil and garlic has a similar aroma that’s just as intoxicatingly fragrant, flecking the creamy tofu cubes like a pesto. I probably make this three or four times a week, it’s that good.
14 to 16 ounces (390 to 450 grams) medium-firm or firm tofu
2 cups (38 grams) loosely packed fresh basil leaves, preferably Thai basil
2 garlic cloves, minced, or to taste
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
¼ teaspoon MSG, or 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
Cut the tofu into ½-inch cubes.
Bring a saucepan of very generously salted water to a rolling boil. Place a bowl of cold water near the stove. Carefully lower the cubes of tofu into the boiling water with a slotted spoon and let them simmer away for 3 to 4 minutes until completely heated through. Lift the tofu cubes out and plunge them immediately into the bowl of cold water. Their outside surface will firm up as they cool. Although tofu is already cooked and edible straight from the package, blanching it will infuse it with flavor, firm up its texture, and expel any stale water inside the curd. Drain well and place in a large bowl.
Finely chop the basil and add it to a small bowl with the garlic, sesame oil, MSG, and ½ teaspoon salt, stirring to fully combine and incorporate the ingredients. It should be very fragrant and resemble coarse pesto. Add this sauce to the blanched tofu and fold gently with a spatula until the tofu cubes are evenly coated. Taste and add more salt if needed. At this point, my mom always adds extra nutritional yeast for a delicious boost of savoriness (she loves the stuff). Enjoy immediately or place in the refrigerator to chill before serving
Reprinted with permission from The Vegan Chinese Kitchen by Hannah Che copyright © 2022. Photographs by Hannah Che. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.
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