Shanghai-Style Tofu and Beans Sprout Salad with Chinese Five Spice Dressing
Serves: 2 as a main; 4 as a side
By Heidi Allison
In the style of modern Shanghai cuisine, this healthy, vegan salad showcases its condiments, and, uses a tad of sugar in combination with soy sauce, to flavor the dish. The carefully- edited secret ingredient, Chinese 5-Spice, imparts a warm, complex, slightly sweet flavor, while the nutty-tasting, roasted sesame seed oil lends a toasted, rounded note—without overpowering the essential flavors of the main ingredients. A blend of five spices: star anise, Chinese cinnamon, ginger, Sichuan pepper and fennel seed, the seductive Chinese Five Spice Dressing creates an exotic, deeply satisfying taste that cannot be substituted: it hits all five flavor notes—sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami—in one bite. This salad will softly grab your attention…
The youngest of the ten major cuisines of China, contemporary Shanghai fare presents a healthier point of view— dishes rely on top-notch produce, rather than copious amounts of oil and sugar, to create flavor. This cosmopolitain food tastes light, balanced and slightly sweet. Detail-driven, artistic plating is another characteristic of current Shanghai dishes. Ingredients are often meticulously cut, and, ingredient colors carefully chosen, to complement each other in the finished dish.
There are several techniques that make this dish come together: marinating the tofu for at least 2 hours before serving, allows the rather bland soybean cake to fully absorb the Chinese 5-Spice dressing. Using a mandolin ( I recommend the Japanese brand, Benriner) allows you to cut the tofu into beautiful, uniform 1/4-inch strips, creating an exquisite presentation while enhancing the absorption of marinade by reducing the surface area of the tofu.
It’s best to prepare the soybeans right before serving this dish, since their mild flavor fully develops at slightly warm or room temperatire. And, make sure to check if you can make a “u” with a sprout before removing from the cooking water—this is the benchmark for a “not-too-soft” or “crunchy” texture that is requisite in the dish.
1 block of organic, sprouted extra-firm Tofu
Five Spice Dressing:
1/4 cup soy sauce (I recommend Kikkoman brand )
1 tsp. white sugar
1 Tbs. toasted sesame seed oil
1/2 tsp. Chinese five spice
2 trumpet mushrooms, trimmed, rinsed and patted dry
12 oz. package of beans sprouts
1 tsp. toasted sesame seed oil
2 green onions
, thinly sliced, green part only
1 Tbs. toasted black sesame seeds
Rinse and drain tofu. Place tofu between two paper towels, and gently push down to remove some of the water. Insert 1/4-inch julienne blade into mandolin, and place over a large bowl. Gently run tofu block down mandolin, to create 1/4-inch matchstick cuts of tofu. In a small bowl, add soy sauce and sugar, then whisk with a fork until combined. Add sesame seed oil and whisk again till combined. Pour five spice dressing over tofu, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator for at least 5 hours, best overnight.
Thirty minutes before serving this dish, run trimmed trumpet mushrooms over mandolin, using 1/-4 -inch julienne blade. Drizzle collected marinating sauce at bottom of bowl over mushrooms, and cover till ready to use.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and put bean sprouts into pot. Immediately turn off heat and allow to sit, uncovered, for 5-7 minutes, or until a sprout can be turned into a “u” shape without breaking. Drain bean sprouts and rinse with cool water to stop cooking process, then drain again. Place sprouts into a medium size bowl. With your hands, gently massage the sprouts, 4-5times. Drizzle with toasted sesame seed oil, and toss to coat.
Place bean sprouts on a serving plate and top with marinated tofu and mushrooms; drizzle accumulated dressing over dish. Top with thinly-sliced green onion tops, and black sesame seeds, then serve.
This dish is best served at room temperature.