Deborah Madison’s cookbooks are mainstays of any dedicated home cook’s kitchen library. Her wonderfully accessible, homey and nourishing fare is perfect for weekdays and dinner parties alike. This hearty, colorful cabbage salad with tofu crisps packs a Japanese togarashi crunch that works as well with the cabbage as it tastes straight from the bowl!
When I decided to revisit the peppered tofu crisps from my book This Can’t Be Tofu! I was surprised at how unnecessarily complicated they seemed. I decided do them far more simply, only using the Japanese spice mixture, togarashi, instead of pepper. People standing around the kitchen kept eating them, proving to me that, as promised, they can do service as a snack or an appetizer.
At the same time my little crisps were disappearing, I was thinking they’d make a good “crouton” for a warm red cabbage salad, only to find I had put just such a recipe in the same book. (We do forget these things!) But the salad, too, seemed unnecessarily complicated. I didn’t have the golden bell pepper or snow peas, so I just left them out and it was fine, although I know they make a bright and sweet addition. (They’re shown in the photo, and listed here in case you have them.) Instead, I added other ingredients that seemed essential and that I had on hand—lots of fresh ginger, more scallions and cilantro, and a mild red jalapeño-sized pepper. I simplified the dressing ingredients, too, taking away those that weren’t needed.
One reason for the changes, other than that it was winter and there were no snow peas and yellow peppers in season, is that the pantry ingredients we have now are better and different. Then I didn’t have the rich, good, unpasteurized soy sauce that I buy at my co-op, hence the miso to make up for the thinness of what we did have. Mirin—the real thing, that is—wasn’t a staple, hence the use of sugar and cheap balsamic vinegar. In addition, we didn’t have organic or GMO-free cornstarch as we do now. The changes I made resulted in a recipe that’s far easier to make and just as good, if not better.
Red cabbage makes a good winter salad, but I do think it tastes better if it’s cooked just enough to warm and wilt it, no more. The wilting brings up both the flavor and the color and tenderizes the cabbage a bit, too. Although I would always serve this with just that hint of warmth, I am also happy eating leftovers for lunch the next day, cold from the refrigerator.
On a cold January night, I served this salad for dinner, preceded by a winter squash soup and followed by sliced blood oranges for dessert. There was so much color and flavor. Who says winter vegetables are drab?
Togarashi Tofu Crisps
- 1 pound (more or less) firm tofu
- 1 scant teaspoon togarashi or 1 heaping teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, if using pepper
- 1 rounded teaspoon sea salt
- organic cornstarch
- 1/2 cup peanut oil, for frying
- 4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons good Japanese soy sauce or tamari
- 2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon light sesame or peanut oil
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 small red cabbage (a scant 2 pounds)
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 large yellow bell pepper, sliced about 1/4-inch-thick (optional)
- 1 red jalapeño-sized pepper, thinly sliced
- A chunk ginger, peeled and sliced into very thin strips to make 1 heaping tablespoon
- 1 cup (or so) snow peas, if available, tips and strings removed, sliced diagonally
- 2 good handfuls chopped cilantro leaves
- 6 scallions, including some of the greens, sliced diagonally
- 1 tablespoon toasted black sesame seeds or 1/4 cup toasted peanuts or cashews
For the chips
Drain the tofu, then wrap it in a clean cotton towel, place a heavy object on top, and set it aside while you prepare the rest of the ingredients for the tofu and the salad. You want the tofu to be dry so that there won’t be any bits of water sputtering in the hot oil. When it has drained, cut the block of tofu into 1⁄2- to 1-inch cubes.
Put the togarashi or pepper, pepper flakes, and salt in a large bowl. Heat the oil in a 9-inch skillet. While it’s heating, take a third of the tofu pieces and toss them in a few tablespoons of cornstarch. When the oil is hot enough to sizzle a bit of tofu, add the batch and cook over medium-high heat, turning them every so often until they are golden and crisp, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the tofu and turn it onto paper toweling to drain. Repeat with the last two batches. (There should be plenty of oil.) When done, toss the still-warm tofu with the togarashi mixture.
For the dressing
Whisk the dressing ingredients together and set the dressing aside.
For the salad
Prepare all the vegetables before you begin cooking. Quarter the cabbage, cut out the cores, and using a sharp knife or running a chunk of cabbage over a sharp blade (a mandoline), slice it as thinly as you can. You’ll need 4 to 5 cups.
Heat a third of the dressing in a wide skillet set over high heat. Add the onion, yellow pepper, red pepper, and ginger and cook briskly, stirring often until softened, about 2 minutes. Remove to a platter or shallow salad bowl.
Return the skillet to the heat and add the rest of the dressing. When it’s hot, add the cabbage and cook, turning frequently, until it has softened but still retains its bright color, about 2 minutes if very thinly sliced, longer if thicker. Add the snow peas during the last minute. Slide the cabbage into the bowl with the onion and toss with most of the tofu crisps, scallions, cilantro, and seeds or nuts. Taste for salt and add more if needed. Garnish with the remaining ingredients and serve while still warm.