Weeknight Vegetarian: Tofu, cool and quick

Deb Lindsey/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST - WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 17: Chilled Tofu With Crunchy, Spicy Topping photographed in Washington, DC. Tableware from Crate and Barrel. Photo by Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)

There’s the Japanese way with tofu, and then there’s everybody else’s way. In Japan, the soybean curd is so universally appreciated that cooks use it for everyday, off-the-cuff preparations the likes of which most Americans would never dream.

That’s partly because Japanese cooks have access to some of the world’s best tofu: freshly made, sometimes even homemade. But it’s also because they think about tofu differently from the way we do. While we complain about the blandness, they use it to a dish’s advantage. I’ve thought about that ever since meeting cookbook author and lifestyle maven Harumi Kurihara in Tokyo several years ago and first trying her chilled tofu, which she tops with whatever crunchy things are in her refrigerator.

VIENNA, VA, JANUARY 9, 2013: Winter salad of shaved cucumber, radish and endive with lemon vinaigrette. Dishware courtesy of Crate & Barrel. (Photo by ASTRID RIECKEN For The Washington Post)

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I make my own version of it occasionally, particularly when the nights start to get as hot as the days and I want something easy to put together — and cold. In her beautiful book “Asian Tofu” (Ten Speed Press, 2012), Andrea Nguyen includes her own take on the idea, sprinkling her homemade chilled tofu (or tofu “pudding,” which is another story entirely) with crunchy sardines. But when I craved the dish recently, I had another ingredient in mind: corn. Not just any corn, but just-picked, so-fresh-you-can-eat-it-raw corn. Combined with peanuts, scallions and a quick ginger-and-chili-spiked sauce, it perfectly counterbalanced the creamy silken tofu.

It was cool and it was quick, just the thing for a sweltering night.

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