I’ve lived in some of the most organic-loving, vegan-friendly places in the country and still never really liked tofu. It was fine in miso soup, but I had no desire to try and incorporate it into my home cooking until I saw this recipe by Heidi Swanson. I absolutely love soba noodles (see here and here), but the sweet-salty-spicy black sesame paste is what’s really special here. The extra-firm tofu has a very similar consistency to the noodles and absorbs the sesame sauce like a sponge, which even won over my meat-loving Minnesotan fiancé. It’s a great dish to try out even if you don’t think you like tofu, and I guarantee that the black sesame paste will become your new favorite condiment (it's worth a little extra effort to make, so keep some extra in your fridge).
Black Sesame Otsu:
- Toast 1 tsp. chopped walnuts* and 1 tsp. sunflower seeds in a skillet for 1-2 minutes.
- Add in 1/2 c. black sesame seeds** and continue to toast for about 1 minute, being careful not to burn anything.
- Transfer the mixture to a mortar and pestle*** and pound until a sand-like consistency.
- Stir in 1 1/2 tbsp. soy sauce, 1 1/2 tbsp. sugar, 1 1/2 tsp. mirin, 2 tbsp. rice vinegar, 1 tbsp. sesame oil, and 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper.****
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook 12 oz. soba noodles according to package instructions.
- Meanwhile, drain, pat dry, and cut 10 oz. extra-firm tofu into matchstick-size pieces and place in a very hot pan with some canola oil.
- Season tofu with salt and cook until lightly golden on both sides, about 2-3 minutes per side.
- Drain the noodles, reserving 1/3 c. cooking liquid.
- Mix most of the sesame paste into the cooking liquid and pour the whole thing over the noodles, along with 1/2 bunch minced green onions.
- Toss together until well combined, then add in the tofu and gently mix again.
- Divide into bowls and top with a small spoonful of reserved sesame paste and more minced green onions.
*The original recipe called for pine nuts. I think any nut or more sunflower seeds would do.
**You can use regular sesame seeds if you can't find black ones.
***Or use a food processor.
****You might want to add a little more cayenne depending on how spicy you like it. The whole mixture can be made a day ahead and stored in the fridge.