There's the Japanese way with tofu, and then there's everybody else's way. In Japan, the soybean curd is so universally appreciated that cooks use it for everyday, off-the-cuff preparations the likes of which most Americans would never dream.
That's partly because Japanese cooks have access to some of the world's best tofu: freshly made, sometimes even homemade. But it's also because they think about tofu differently from the way we do. While we complain about the blandness, they use it to a dish's advantage.
I've thought about that ever since meeting cookbook author and lifestyle maven Harumi Kurihara in Tokyo several years ago and first trying her chilled tofu, which she tops with whatever crunchy things are in her refrigerator.
I make my own version of it occasionally, particularly when the nights start to get as hot as the days and I want something easy to put together — and cold.
In her beautiful book "Asian Tofu" (Ten Speed Press, 2012), Andrea Nguyen includes her own take on the idea, sprinkling her homemade chilled tofu (or tofu "pudding," which is another story entirely) with crunchy sardines. But when I craved the dish recently, I had another ingredient in mind: corn. Not just any corn, but just-picked, so-fresh-you-can-eat-it-raw corn. Combined with peanuts, scallions and a quick ginger-and-chili-spiked sauce, it perfectly counterbalanced the creamy silken tofu.
It was cool and it was quick, just the thing for a sweltering night.
Chilled Tofu With Spicy, Crunchy Topping
Shiso, a member of the mint family whose flavor carries hints of mint and licorice, is available at Asian markets, including H Mart locations.
Serve with cold noodles and seaweed salad or other greens for a main course, or by itself as an appetizer. From Washington Post Food editor Joe Yonan, author of the upcoming "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook" (Ten Speed Press, August 2013).
1 tablespoon chili-infused olive oil
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon unseasoned rice vinegar
1 teaspoon finely chopped peeled fresh ginger root
1 teaspoon sugar
1-pound block cold silken tofu (see headnote)
Kernels from 1 fresh ear of corn (about 3/4 cup)
1/4 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts, chopped
1 scallion, trimmed and thinly sliced on the diagonal
4 shiso leaves, stacked and rolled, cut crosswise into thin ribbons (may substitute large basil or mint leaves)
Whisk together the chili and sesame oils, soy sauce, vinegar, ginger and sugar in a medium bowl.
Drain the tofu briefly on paper towels, then invert on a platter. Pour the chili oil mixture over the tofu, then top with the corn, peanuts, scallion and shiso.
Serve right away, while the tofu is cold.
NUTRITION Per serving: 200 calories, 11 g protein, 12 g carbohydrates, 12 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 200 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar