Remember how I mentioned that August had been a difficult month? Apparently the month wasn’t finished with us at that point, because last week came more less-than-pleasant news, albeit news that could prove to be good in the long run. What was honestly the most difficult about all of this was having to grapple with it alone as Michael was away all week for business, and what was going to be a week filled with some interesting new salads I wanted to try ended up being one in which I didn’t want to eat much of anything. Ricotta dumplings, a two-cheese omelette, and leftover pasta from the weekend made for a somewhat pathetic sabor de soledad, but comfort food was definitely the thing I needed just to make it to Friday. (I apologize for being a bit oblique, but it’s for the best.)
By sheer coincidence we had planned to go to Momofuku Noodle Bar as part of a delayed celebration for Michael’s birthday (a departure from our usual trip to Keen’s, but one he requested) and it ended up being just what the two of us needed. We were there right as it opened, got two stools right away, and proceeded to demolish our bowls of ginger scallion noodles (me) and Momofuku ramen (him). I can’t honestly say what took us so long to finally come to this restaurant given how much we rely on the Momofuku cookbook for interesting meals at home, but nothing proved the adage “better late than never” like our lunch on Saturday.
What was so remarkable to me was how familiar everything tasted because it was nearly identical to food I had made in my own kitchen. A common criticism about restaurant-based cookbooks is that so few of them are effective in translating professional recipes and procedures for the home cook and home kitchen, but Momofuku, along with other perennial favorite The Barcelona Wine Bar Cookbook, successfully navigates this task. The latter book helped me fulfill my craving for interesting and delicious Spanish tapas when going to the restaurants was not nearly as convenient, and now I know that Momofuku will be able to accurately sate any cravings for some David Chang-style food when going to the real thing on a whim may not be possible.
Our meal also got me very excited to try some of the other recipes that had intrigued me in the book but I had otherwise resisted because I wasn’t sure how they would turn out or if they might be too complicated. At first I was a bit nervous to have the pickled Napa cabbage because while I like cabbage, I am also very particular in how it’s prepared. Turns out Chang’s simple vinegar pickling preparation is perfect in wilting the cabbage just enough to still retain just enough bite to be pleasing in texture. The pickled shiitake mushrooms were also a nice surprise (quite flavorful without being mushy), and the next time we deploy some dried guys for some ramen broth we will then save them to pickle them. Probably the most exciting element, though, was the slow-poached egg: it requires a lot of fussing over the heat levels to keep the right temperature, but the result is so damn delicious that once the weather starts getting cool enough to justify poaching eggs for 40 minutes, I’m going to have to give this a try at home. And then there were the pork buns–as much as I dislike the idea of having to figure out how to freeze a whole bunch of buns for pork buns, I will do it all the same in the name of how extraordinary the ones we had in the restaurant were because there’s no way I can’t not have them again in the near future.
In the meantime, I’m going to implore you to try Momofuku‘s tomato-tofu salad because of all of the recipes in the book, it’s both quite simple but also designed to be adaptable. (It’s also the perfect time of year to enjoy it.) His original recipe calls for a fine chiffonade of shiso leaves, but those are typically not readily available near me so we’ll either use regular or opal basil. I’ve also experimented with tofu textures depending on what Fairway would have in stock, and while silken is by far the most pleasing texture a firm-textured tofu will also work in a pinch. Sometimes I’ll skin some of the tomatoes, but sometimes I won’t and simply slice them all or cut them into wedges depending on size.
So here’s one way I make it–feel free to play around with it as you will.
slightly adapted from Momofuku
makes 2 salads
- 1 12-oz block silken tofu, drained
- 1 12-oz package of mixed cherry tomatoes
- 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon usukuchi (light Japanese soy sauce, not low-sodium)
- 1/2 cup grapeseed oil
- Kosher salt or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 sprigs basil (regular or opal), leaves removed and sliced into a fine chiffonade
Carefully slice the tofu in half by running your knife blade parallel to the cutting board, and then using either a small (2-21/2 inch) ring mold or a narrow straight-sided glass (a highball would be really good here), carefully cut rounds of tofu and divide them among the serving places (2/plate or bowl); set aside for now.
For the tomatoes, slice in half or cut into wedges depending on their size, or leave them whole if desired. Mix together the oils, vinegar, and usukuchi and toss well with the tomatoes to coat. Spoon tomatoes over the tofu rounds, sprinkle with the basil chiffonade and season with just a pinch of salt and some ground black pepper and serve immediately.