This recipe is for a number of discrete components which you can choose to bring together in whatever quantities suit your appetite and tastes. Almost everything can be made in advance, as the majority of the dish is served cold, making it an incredibly refreshing, light but fulfilling summer dish. And with the prep out of the way, the actual dish can be pulled together in a few minutes as the only thing that needs to be done at the time of serving is the cooking of the tofu and the slicing of the avocado. Quantities given will easily serve four, with leftovers to recombine tomorrow or later in the week. This dish can very easily be made vegan by omitting/substituting the eggs.
1 block firm tofu (300-450g)*
1 pack buckwheat soba noodles
1 lime, cut into wedges
1 bunch of asparagus
1 bunch broccolini
1-2 spring onions, thinly sliced
½ cup of coriander leaves, roughly chopped
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 half head red cabbage
½ cup approx. apple cider vinegar**
¼ cup approx. brown sugar
1 tsp carraway seeds
1 tsp salt
Note: quantities will vary depending on the size of your head of cabbage
½ cup Japanese rice wine vinegar
½ cup good light soy sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar
The first thing to do is to make the hot-pickled cabbage. It is a cooked pickle, hence the name, but best served cold on this dish, which is why it’s best to make it in advance of the meal. 2 hours is plenty, but even better the day before, which gives all the flavours plenty of time to mingle and settle into something more harmonious. Heat up about a tbsp olive oil in a heavy based pan over a low to medium heat. Slice head of cabbage and add to pan. Sprinkle the top of the cabbage with the salt, brown sugar and carraway seeds, then add the vinegar. Stir until sugar and salt have dissolved. Add a half cup of water, cover, and reduce heat to low and cook for an hour, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t catch. You don’t want your cabbage browning; you want it to collapse into a wonderfully vibrant purple colour. Taste along the way – if it lacks moisture, add a little water; the steam it generates will help the tough cabbage to soften, and will cook out of the dish leaving only the flavourful pickle. If the cabbage lacks that sweet/sour pickled flavour, add a few more tbsp of apple cider vinegar and/or brown sugar, even another sprinkle or two of salt, and then cook them out. When the cabbage is soft, but still has some body and bite to it, set it aside to cool. It should easily last a week or two in an airtight container in the fridge.
Next, begin your marinade. It is very simple marinade, but adds an incredibly rewarding depth of flavour, and is used to marry all the flavours of the dish together as it is used in a number of the components and steps. Combine the soy and rice wine vinegar and stir in the sugar until it has dissolved.
Slice your tofu into decent sized portions – about a centimetre thick gives a satisfying steaky texture, and add to the marinade, turning occasionally to make sure all sides are absorbing that flavour. Boil the eggs for about six and a half minutes, place in cold water until cool enough to handle and peel. Add the soft-boiled eggs to the marinade along with the tofu, making sure they are also submerged as much/as often as possible on all sides to ensure an even uptake of the flavour. The tofu and the eggs should ideally go into the marinade for 2 hours or so, but an hour would be fine. Perhaps also the night before, but I didn’t test this – my theory is that it would only be better.
Get a pot of water on the boil. Add your noodles and cook per the directions on the packet. Drain, and place in a bowl full of cold water, the drain again and set aside until you are ready to use. If the noodles begin to stick, a little cold water will easily separate them.
Next, slice your broccolini into lengths about 3.5cm, or two knuckle joints – whatever’s easier – and add to rapidly boiling salted water. Cook until they are still vibrant green, but starting to soften, about 6-8 minutes. Remove, and place in ice cold water.
Repeat this step with the asparagus, though it will take less time to cook, about 4-6 minutes. Remove and place in ice cold water. Note that you don’t need to do this step – it just helps the veg to retain their vibrant green colour which looks so wonderful on the plate. You could use regular cold tap water too, though the green colour of the veg will be noticeably darker green. When cooled and drained, toss the greens through a few spoonfuls of that marinade.
When it comes time to bring the dish together, it couldn’t be simpler. Heat some oil in a hot frypan and add the tofu. Cook until a caramelised crust begins to form on one side, flip and repeat. One of the wonderful things about tofu is that you can get that crusty deliciousness on the outside without having to worry about overcooking the inside.
While the tofu is cooking, start to build your bowl. Add the drained noodles to the centre of the bowl, and drizzle over a little of the marinade – a few spoonfuls should be plenty, the noodles are meant to be deliciously subtle. Then, add your components around the outside of the noodles. In no particular order, add the halved eggs, the asparagus, the broccolini, and the pickled cabbage. Remove the avocado from its skin, de-pit, and slice lengthways to a thickness of about half a centimetre. Season with salt and pepper, and then add a quarter of the avocado to each bowl. Place the hot tofu on the side, and garnish each bowl with the coriander, spring onions, lime wedges and sesame seeds. Enjoy!
As mentioned up top, this recipe is very easily made vegan by substituting or omitting the eggs. Contrariwise, it can also be made more omnivorous by adding salmon, chicken, beef etc. instead of the tofu. The only difference that this would make to the dish is that you should probably not marinate anything else with the meat – like the eggs – nor should you use it for spooning over the noodles, veg etc. Keep that marinade isolated from the rest of the dish. And of course, feel free to innovate/improvise – use rice or quinoa or barley instead of noodles. Add some edamame, choi sum or bok choy, spinach or any other kinds of greens. Barbecued corn goes phenomenally well with it, or marinated mushrooms. And you can never have too many herbs – go ahead and add whatever you fancy to make it a more lively and appealing dish to you.
*Feel free to also use a silken tofu, pressed lightly for 20 mins under a plate to draw out some of the liquid if you want a less steaky and more delicate texture for your tofu.
**Feel free also to use your favourite vinegar in place of apple cider – it would work well with champagne, white or red wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, etc. Also don’t hesitate to vary up your cabbage spices – I used carraway seeds, but dill, black pepper, fennel seeds, coriander, mustard seed etc would all go well too. This is a fairly basic pickle – feel free to make it as complex and interesting as you like. You could also begin the dish by softening a small onion before adding the cabbage too, or by also grating an apple into the cabbage as it cooks. Have at it.
***The marinade is also incredibly simple and lends itself to near infinite variation – I have made countless versions of it myself over the years. Particularly notable are the addition of fresh garlic, chilli and/or ginger, wasabi oil, or using a touch of sake or mirin as well.