This is a delicate dish with a very slight crunch that is provided by sugar and salt. The marinade, plus a final browning in oil, help build the flavor and surface texture. The accompanying asparagus is served with a sauce made with the lemongrass paste, so be sure to cut everything as finely as possible.
- 1 carton firm tofu
- 3 tablespoons very finely minced lemongrass, from the center of 1 or 2 stalks
- 3 plump garlic cloves, minced
- 1 small shallot (or the whites of 2 large scallions), finely diced
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro stems
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric
- ½ jalapeno chile, seeded and chopped
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 teaspoons roasted peanut oil, plus extra for the pan
- 1 pound asparagus, tough ends trimmed, peeled if thick
- 4 lime wedges, plus cilantro or watercress sprigs for garnish
1. Drain the tofu, wrap it in a clean towel, and press while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
2. To make the paste, puree the next eight ingredients with ½ teaspoon salt and 2 teaspoons of the peanut oil in a small food processor. Or, even better, mash them with a pestle. If the mixture is too thick to work, add a little water as needed.
3. Unwrap the tofu and cut it crosswise into 8 pieces. Cut each piece in half, crosswise or diagonally. Put them on a large plate and spoon the paste over them. Use your fingers to gently press in the rub, turning the pieces over so that both sides are coated. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. (This can be done the day before.)
4. Heat a wide, nonstick skillet and add a generous film of peanut oil. When hot, remove the tofu from its dish, leaving most of the rub behind. Place the tofu in the pan in a single layer and cook over medium heat until golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Turn and cook on the second side. Add a little cracked pepper and a sprinkling of salt.
5. While the tofu is cooking, simmer the asparagus in salted water until tender, then set on a towel to drain. Roll it in the remaining lemongrass rub and remaining roasted peanut oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
6. To serve, place the asparagus on a platter and intersperse with the tofu. Garnish with the cilantro and limes, which should be squeezed over everything.