Spicy way to keep cool this summer: Try easy tofu recipes

By Evan Kleiman

Japanese cold tofu is an easy-to-make cool summer dinner. Photo courtesy of Just One Cookbook.

You’re hungry, but it’s hot — really hot and you can’t face actually cooking. But you need something filling and full of protein. Why not keep tofu in the house so you can be ready to make a cold tofu dish? There are both Chinese and Japanese versions that I turn to over and over again, and they’re so easy to make that I hesitate to call them recipes. Two of them start with a box of soft or silken tofu, both of which require delicate handling so they don’t fall apart. You’ll want to let the tofu drain atop a paper towel to wick away excess moisture before plating it.

Let’s start with hiyayakko, a versatile Japanese way of serving tofu. You may serve the block whole or cut it into blocks before adorning it with a variety of toppings. I love it topped simply with chopped green onions and cilantro with a drizzle of sesame oil and soy sauce. But you can add katsuobushi, shaved bonito flakes, and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. Or you can simply top with minced tomatoes, fresh corn niblets, shiso leaves or wakame seaweed. And as a drizzle, instead of simply soy and sesame oil, you could use ponzu or mentsuyu, which is a noodle soup base that’s very versatile. You can make it yourself or buy a pantry version.

Chinese cold tofu is an umami-filled, spicy way to keep cool when it’s hot. Photo courtesy of Woks of Life.

If you like even your cold dishes served spicy, then try the Chinese cold tofu dish called liangban doufu, made with spicy bean paste. Like the Japanese version you start with drained soft or silken tofu, which is first sliced then plated. It is then topped with an easy to make sauce that has several variations. If you have Korean doubanjang, you could use that. Or you can make a spicy sauce using chile oil or chile crisp. 

Noodles made of pure tofu are a versatile ingredient for a protein filled summer salad. Photo courtesy of Woks of Life

Another cold tofu dish I can become obsessed with is a salad made of tofu noodles. Yes, the “noodles” are actually made of bean curd. You can buy them packaged in Asian markets near the boxes of tofu. You can find them either textured or smooth, and sometimes they’re seasoned. You can also buy tofu sheets and cut them into strips yourself. You could also cut strips from pressed tofu. Either way they have a nice firmness and bounce and absorb dressings well. You can add julienne of cucumber, celery, sweet peppers and carrots and dress with a slightly sweetened soy-based dressing you can make spicy if you wish.