Crispy Tofu Salad

 After living in Chicago for 5 years, I finally made it to Ravinia. Lord knows why it took me so long, but I'm glad I went. For non-Chicagoans out there, Ravinia is an outdoor amphitheater in the burbs of Chicago. This is perhaps the most extreme amphitheater experience I could ever imagine.

Allow me to set the scene. 99% of the lawn seats don't allow you to actually see the stage, you just listen via speakers planted all over the lawn. If you think bringing a picnic basket with a blanket is sufficient (like I did), you will be a loser and an outcast. Thankfully, my friend Jess is a longtime Ravinia goer and was (super) prepared. Prepared means coming with the following: a fold out table from Crate and Barrel (literally, everyone in Ravina had one), table cloth, candles, chairs, waterproof blankets, cloth napkins, real plates and cutlery, 2-3 bottles of wine per person, a cheese selection, and last but not least, a gourmet feast. Thankfully, I made this tasty tofu salad to complement the feast our friends brought. It made up for our measly Gamecocks blanket (that we put on top of trash bags so we didn't get soaked) and cooler that only fit 2 bottles of wine. Rookies.

Crispy Tofu Salad
makes 6-8 servings

1 package extra firm tofu (1/2 in. cubes)
2 Chinese eggplant (1/2 in. cubes)
1 1/2 cups frozen edamame
1 cup bean sprouts
2 serrano peppers (thinly sliced)
3 green onions (rough chop)
1/2 cup fresh cilantro (rough chop)
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp light sesame oil
2 tbsp vegetable oil
salt and pepper

for the vinaigrette
2 tbsp sesame oil
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 in. fresh ginger (grated)
1 lime (juice and 1/2 zest)
salt and pepper

Tofu: Begin by preparing the tofu. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut tofu into small, 1/2 inch cubes and toss into a mixing bowl. Coat the tofu in sesame oil, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper. Transfer to a foil lined baking sheet and pop into the hot oven. Let cook, shaking around 1 or twice, for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, turn on the broiler and let the tofu crisp up for 5 minutes. Make sure the baking sheet is on the middle rack, and not directly under the broiler. Watch to make sure it doesn't burn. Remove to large mixing bowl and let cool.

Eggplant: As tofu bakes, cook the eggplant. Trim and cube to same size as the tofu. Toss in 1 tbsp vegetable oil, salt and pepper. In a large saute pan, add remaining 1 tbsp of vegetable oil and heat over medium high heat. (Tip: I add oil to the eggplant before putting it in the pan to make sure all the pieces get coated before hitting the hot pan.) Let the eggplant cook covered, for 10-15 minutes, tossing frequently. Remove lid for last 5 minutes. The eggplant should get crispy and brown. Remove from heat and add to same mixing bowl as the tofu.

Boil edamame in salted water for 4-5 minutes, and transfer to same bowl as tofu and eggplant.

To the cooked vegetables, add bean sprouts, Serrano peppers, green onion, cilantro, salt and pepper.

For the vinaigrette: Whisk together sesame oil, vegetable oil, rice vinegar, grated ginger, lime juice and zest, salt and pepper.

Pour the vinaigrette over the vegetables, and toss to coat. Refrigerate for an hour to let the flavors absorb. Serve cool as a side dish at your next picnic or party!

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