Tofu’s versatility is no secret, but to embrace its many uses is an exquisite thing — it can be pan-fried, grilled, blended into spreads and dressings, or tossed in a smoker for a few hours. Those who know tofu well understand it as an ingredient that is subtle and ever-so-slightly sweet, a willing canvas for flavors or a base for them to intermingle.
The joy of tofu is what should keep us returning to it: We should be endlessly excited about it. How many ingredients are as multifaceted?
A dish centered on tofu usually has to be prepared to weather imaginary criticism. Consider this recipe a series of well-prepared comebacks. There is a dash of rice vinegar, a sweet acid to gently sting the skeptical palate. There is coconut milk for richness, molasses for caramelization, ginger for freshness and soy sauce for umami.
The dish’s contrasting textures may be the most satisfying part. Firm tofu slices are pan-seared for a golden-brown crust and a soft interior. Whole cashews offer a buttery crunch. The snap peas nod to the flavors of summer while looking back at the green shades of spring. If blistered perfectly, they add a nice char to the plate and an audible crunch as you bite. The mint does whatever mint does. Does it bite back?
Long summer days are all about spending as little time as possible beside a hot stove. So let’s keep it simple. One wide saucepan will work for everything here. Sear your tofu and set it aside; blister your snap peas and transfer them to a bowl. Build the sauce in the same pan, add your tofu back and let it soak up all that is sweet and savory. Serve over steamed rice or a fresh handful of greens, and garnish with more fresh, tingling mint leaves.
There is, of course, just as much to be gained from this recipe by using other proteins: chicken thighs, slices of pork shoulder or cubes of rib-eye. But alongside these fresh ingredients from early summer’s bounty, tofu can really shine.
Perhaps that’s the secret to tofu: It shouldn’t be treated like a substitute for anything. Now is as perfect a time as any to give it center stage.