Food and Dining Editor

The best recipe, in my book, is the one that surprises me: with a technique, an ingredient or a combination that makes it stand out. When testing recipes for this year’s Top Tomato reader contest, I gravitated toward one for a tomato and tofu salad that I thought might be one of those recipes, and I was right.

Sakunthala Seetharaman, 73, of Silver Spring, Md., sent it in. When I made it, I marveled at the riot of flavors and textures on my plate. Seetharaman’s recipe balances sweet, tart, spicy and earthy, but more than anything, I appreciated her inclusion of a small amount of oven-roasted tofu. She’s vegetarian, too, so in addition to the nuts, the tofu adds protein, of course, and its slight chewiness bridges the softness of the tomatoes and the crunch of the nuts and sliced onions.

There was just one problem: Seetharaman’s original submission left out the olive oil needed to get that tofu nicely browned in the oven. (She included “oven-roasted tofu” as an ingredient unto itself.) If included, the oil would push the ingredient number to 14, just over the limit in our contest rules.

That means that my own praise in this space will have to be considered prize enough — and will serve, hopefully, as encouragement for Seetharaman to enter again in 2015. I, for one, would love to see what she might surprise me with next.