A bright winter salad using crispy citrus marinaded tofu on a bed of fennel, pomegranate, and radish all brought together with an orange vinaigrette.
By Stephanie Kirkos
Fennel, with its distinct anise flavor, is a vegetable you either love or hate. I used to eat black jelly beans at Easter by the fistful growing up, so I knew fennel and I would get along from the get go. It’s a vegetable I don’t eat often enough, mostly because I don’t really know what to do with it. Fennel is associated most with Italian cooking, but my family didn’t cook with it. I find myself staring at fennel on the store shelf, wondering what on earth to do with the bulbous thing and its pretty green fronds.
Do you love golden, crispy tofu, but don’t want to fry it? My healthier spin involves a broiler, but more on that in a second. First, I press the tofu – even if it’s extra firm – to get rid of as much water as possible. You can buy a tofu press, but the “cookbook” stack method works quite well (and also reminds me to delve into my collection more often). Twenty minutes under the weight of a few cookbooks, and you’ll be amazed how much more liquid is released.
The marinade for the tofu includes fresh squeezed orange juice, grated orange zest, cornstarch, and sesame seeds. After pressing and cutting the tofu into triangles about 1/4? thick, dunk each triangle in the marinade until coated and set aside in a separate dish. Once all the triangles are in the dish, pour the remaining marinade over top. There won’t be a lot of marinade, so if the tofu and dish look dry, that’s okay. Most of the flavor comes from the finely grated orange zest versus the juice. A light coating is all that’s needed.
Twenty minutes later, arrange the triangles in a single layer on a cooking spray coated baking sheet. When you set the baking sheet under the broiler – be sure to set it on the second rung from the top. If the tofu is directly under the broiler, it will cook too fast and harden the crust too much. We want crispy, not crunchy! Instead, position the tofu one more setting down from the broiler, which will make the tofu crisp and golden without posing a risk of burning or over-cooking.
The tofu is tasty and all, but the fennel is my favorite part. To slice it thin and evenly, I used a hand mandoline. First, cut off the top and bottom of the fennel bulb to create an even working surface, then slice the bulb in half lengthwise. Hang onto the fennel fronds – the feathery green portion – for garnishing later.
With a knife, cut out a little triangle at the bottom of each bulb half to remove the core. Then comes the fun – slicing away on the mandolin. Keep in mind that each mandoline is different – for some, the thinnest setting is paper thin. For this recipe, you’ll want one level thicker for both fennel and radishes.
Remember those reserved, feathery fennel fronds? Pluck those off the stem to garnish the plate. Nothing gives a dish more presentation “pop” than a hint of green.
- 14 oz extra firm tofu, pressed
- 2 tbsp fresh squeezed orange juice
- ½ tbsp finely grated orange zest
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- ½ tbsp sesame seeds
- 2 bulbs fennel, sliced thin
- 1 bunch radishes, sliced thin (about 15 radishes)
- ¾ cup pomegranate seeds
- 2 tbsp fresh squeezed orange juice
- ¼ tsp maple syrup
- 1 tbsp minced shallot
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Press the tofu using either a tofu press or "cookbook stack" method: Rinse the tofu and pat dry. Wrap in a paper towel and set on a cutting board with a dish towel on top. Lay another dish towel on top of the tofu. Place 3-4 cookbooks on top of the tofu, being careful to balance so they don't topple over. Let sit for 20 minutes. Remove the tofu from the paper towel. Slice into triangles about ¼" thick.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the orange juice, orange zest, cornstarch, and sesame seeds. Dunk each tofu triangle into the liquid to coat then place in a separate dish. Repeat for all tofu triangles. Pour the remaining liquid over the tofu. Let sit for additional 20 minutes.
- Set the oven to broil and position an oven rack on the second highest rung (you don't want the tofu directly under the broiler). Coat a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. Arrange the tofu triangles in a single layer on the baking sheet.
- Bake the tofu triangles under the broiler for 8-9 minutes, until golden and crispy. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and flip the tofu triangles over. Bake under the broiler for another 8-9 minutes until that side is golden and crispy.
- While the tofu is baking, prepare the salad. Trim both fennel bulbs by slicing off the top and bottom so the bulb sits flat on a cutting board. Set aside the fennel fronds for garnishing.
- Slice each bulb in half lengthwise. Cut a small triangle out of the bottom of each half to remove the core. Run each half against a mandoline to thinly slice (one setting higher than paper thin). Place all slices into a large bowl.
- Wash one bunch of radishes and trim the ends. Run each radish against a mandoline to thinly slice. Add to the bowl of fennel slices.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the orange juice, maple syrup, and minced shallot. Slowly pour in the olive oil, whisking quickly, so the dressing emulsifies. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Pour the dressing over the fennel and radish slices. Add the pomegranate seeds, then toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide salad among four plates or bowls.
- Layer the warm tofu triangles on top of the salad. Garnish the plate with desired amount of fennel fronds (the feathery green part plucked from the fennel bulb stem). Enjoy!