My husband was in Japan this week for business, which had me thinking of my two trips there for work in late 2006. I sadly spent too much time in a windowless conference room pouring over numbers with a dozen other Japanese petroleum engineers and businessmen (my old job was so sexy, right?), but I did manage to steal some time to sample some of Japan’s amazing culinary offerings: fresh catch of the day sushi, smokey robata grills, tender kobe beef, steaming bowls of noodles. It was some of the most delicious and artfully made food I had ever experienced.
While I know I’ll never be able to replicate this artistry – I don’t have the patience nor the time – my time in Japan taught me one thing: less is more. The food itself wasn’t fussy or complicated. It just presented quality ingredients in a beautiful way. Till today, it’s how I try to cook, especially in the summers.
This recipe for panko tofu with a kale soba salad perfectly represents that keep it simple Japanese philosophy and is a nod to the Japanese flavors I discovered on those trips. It starts with healthy ingredients and accessorizes them just a bit with panko and a tasty umami miso soy sesame dressing. I love making this easy summer dish for a weeknight meal or boxed up for a weekend picnic and enjoying the leftovers for lunch the rest of the week. However you decide to eat it, I promise you’ll wonder how simple can taste so good.
Have you travelled to Japan? If yes, share some of your favorite food memories from the country in the comments below. I can’t wait to return some day!
Some extra smarts:
- Double the dressing and use it later in the week to drizzle on other dishes. It would be great served with simply grilled pork chop or chicken breast or drizzled over roasted broccoli or brussels sprouts.
- If you’re trying to keep your oven off during the summer, pan-fry panko crusted tofu in a skillet.
- Soba noodles can be found in the ethnic aisle of a traditional grocers. There are wheat-free versions for those adhering to a gluten-free diet. They boil much faster than Italian pastas.
- To get a paleo take on this recipe, subscribe to our meal plans which offers gluten-free, paleo, and vegetarian versions of our weeknight meals.
- Soba noodles – ½ lb.
- Kale – 1 bunch, leaves torn, stems chopped
- Green onions – 1 bunch, chopped
- Frozen edamame beans – 1 cup
- Olive oil – 2 tsp.
- Firm tofu – 1 lb., sliced into triangles
- Panko bread crumbs – 1 cup
- Sesame seeds – 2 tbs.
- Egg – 1
- Cooking spray
- Miso paste – 2 tbs.
- Soy sauce – 4 tsp.
- Rice vinegar – 4 tsp.
- Brown sugar – 2 tsp.
- Toasted sesame oil – 4 tsp.
- Water – 2 tbs.
- Canola or grapeseed oil – ¼ cup
- Noodles – Prep according to packaged instructions. Just a note: soba noodles cook rather quickly. I typically run them in cold water and then spread them out on an oiled baking sheet to “dry.”
- Kale – Tear off leaves, wash, and dry. Chop stems into ½” pieces.
- Green onion – Chop keeping white and green parts separated.
- Edamame – Microwave for 1 to 2 minutes, until no longer frozen.
- Tofu – Slice into ½” thick triangles.
- Dressing – Whisk or use a blender to mix all ingredients together. (Can be done up to 5 days ahead)
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Line a sheet pan with foil and coat with cooking spray (or just brush on some oil).
- In a medium-sized bowl, mix together panko with sesame seeds and some salt and pepper. Whisk egg with 1 tbs. of water and pour over tofu pieces. Toss individual pieces in panko and place on sheet pan. Spray with some more cooking spray and bake in oven for 12 to 15 minutes, until golden.
- Heat a saute pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 tsp. of oil and then kale stems and white parts of the green onions to heated oil with some salt. Saute for 3 to 5 minutes, until softened but crunchy.
- Add kale leaves, as much as can fit in the pan at a time, with a pinch of kosher salt. Add more leaves as room is made in the pan. Sauté until all leaves are wilted. Remove and set aside.
- Toss noodles, kale, rest of green onions and edamame with dressing. Start out with less and add more as needed. Remember you can always add more but you can’t take it out! Top with golden brown tofu and drizzle on as much sauce as you want.