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Ginger Lime Crunch Salad with Crispy Tofu

April 19, 2024

A large plate of a salad artfully surrounded by some of the ingredients within such as cucumbers, cilantro, and peanuts. The salad visibly contains carrots, chow mein noodles, fried tofu, and mandarin oranges.

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This recipe is an homage to the culturally nonspecific "Asian Grilled Chicken Salad", a college lunch staple from my favorite deli. I have made some drastic changes, but the star flavors of cilantro, mandarin orange, and roasted peanuts remain.

The Story

When I was in college, my small-ish art school didn't have a cafeteria. Our campus was Center City Philadelphia, and there were a bunch of really great, cheap breakfast and lunch spots in the area that acted as our cafeteria. One of my favorites was called Citi Marketplace. My friends and I went there multiple times a week for their handmade sandwiches or salads, or a container of yogurt or hummus from the grocery section at the back of the store.

The woman at the register, Sylvia, was an absolute delight. She remembered each of us and always asked how we were doing. She would even give each of us a small piece of chocolate or candy after we had paid. The guys at the deli counter always were kind and quick, and the ingredients were always fresh and delicious.

I lived a lot of life inside Citi Marketplace - I cried in frustration after a teacher was harsh with me, and I cried with laughter with friends. I got tea and soup when I was sick and sandwiches and salads to fuel long days of dancing. I really loved this place.

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In 2015, a few years after I graduated, a Wawa moved into what had been a giant luggage store at the corner of Broad and Walnut. (For those unfamiliar with Wawa, it is a convenience store with basically a deli inside. The food is pretty consistently good, and in general, people in the area LOVE Wawa.) When I heard a Wawa was going in, I was immediately worried that its presence as a chain would shorten the life expectancy of the three small delis on Walnut that I used to frequent. The other two, Jean's and VIP Market, remain to this day - they actually outlived the Wawa (which closed in 2020). But in 2016, shortly after Wawa arrived, Citi Marketplace closed for good.

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This salad is inspired by their "Asian Grilled Chicken Salad" which was a frequent order of mine. I have been making a version of this salad for years, but it has morphed considerably from the original as my memory fades and new taste preferences emerge.

I already knew that the way I make this salad now is a far cry from the original, but before codifying this recipe, I decided to see if I could find a record of the actual ingredients. Thanks to the power of Yelp, I did find their menu online. Turns out, I’ve changed it quite a bit more than I thought, so much so that it’s hard to see what I loved about what happens to be pretty basic salad - this was before the days of elaborate salads from places like Sweetgreen, so I think my salad expectations were easily met even by something simple. But I think that my memory is less about the exact ingredients and more about the feeling of community, comfort, and nourishment that this random but reliable little deli provided to me as Midwestern girl in an unfamiliar, East Coast city.

Ingredients - romaine, mandarin oranges, cilantro, peanuts, red cabbage, cucumber, carrots, and chow mein noodles

Ingredient notes -

Tofu: Look for tofu in the refrigerated section. The shelf-stable tofu is too soft to fry well. OR - Feel free to substitute with grilled or roasted chicken for the *authentic* Citi Marketplace experience. ;)

To make vegan - In the dressing, substitute soy sauce for the fish sauce and maple syrup or agave for the honey.

A beautiful red cabbage sliced in half showing the swirls and whirls of layers

The Recipe

makes 2 meal-sized salads

Ingredients

Dressing
  • 1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar (59ml)
  • 1/4 cup neutral oil (59ml)
  • 2 TB lime juice (about 1 small juicy lime) (29ml)
  • 1 packed TB of grated ginger (16g)
  • 1 packed tsp of grated garlic (2 average cloves) (5g)
  • 1 TB fish sauce (14ml)
  • 1 TB soy sauce (14ml)
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil (5ml)
  • 1 tsp chili oil (5ml)
  • 1 tsp honey (5ml)
Fried Tofu
  • 1 14 oz. block firm or extra-firm tofu, sliced into thin bite-sized pieces and patted dry (396g)
  • 3 TB neutral oil (44ml)
  • Sprinkle of salt
Salad
  • 1 small head of romaine, coarsely chopped (about 4 1/4 cups or 200g)
  • Quarter of a small purple cabbage, grated or thinly sliced (about 3 1/4 cups or 220g)
  • 1 large carrot, grated or shaved into thin strips with a vegetable peeler (about 1 cup or 100g)
  • 1 small cucumber, sliced into thin half-moons (about 1 1/3 cups or 160g)
  • 1 large or 2 small scallions, thinly sliced (about a scant 1/4 cup or 20g)
  • Small handful of cilantro, coarsely chopped (about 2-3 TB or 10g)
  • 1/4 cup roasted salted peanuts, chopped (30g)
  • 1 11 oz. can mandarin orange segments, drained (311g)
  • 1 cup chow mein noodles or fried wonton strips (100g)

To Make

1. Fry the Tofu

Place a large non-stick or cast iron skillet over medium heat and warm the oil. Add the sliced and dried tofu in a single layer, frying in batches if you don't have space (the tofu will shrink slightly so it's alright if it's crowded at the beginning, but it will stick together which can be annoying to separate).

A plate of fried tofu triangles

Fry on the first side for 15-20 minutes, flip, and sprinkle salt on the fried surfaces. Fry on the second side for an additional 10-15 minutes, adding an extra drizzle of oil if the pan looks dry. Place tofu on a paper towel-lined plate and hit the second side with another sprinkle of salt.

2. Make the Dressing
Dressing being assembled in a mason jar

Add all the dressing ingredients to a small container such as a mason jar, and combine either with an immersion blender (my preference) or a small whisk.

3. Assemble the Salad

Make the salad base by placing the romaine, cabbage, carrot, cucumber, scallions, and cilantro into a large bowl. Add about a third of the dressing and toss well. Taste and add more dressing if you prefer. Divide the base between two serving bowls.

Completed salad close up - fried tofu, mandarin oranges, cucumber, and cilantro are all very visible.

Top the salads with mandarins, peanuts, chow mein noodles or wonton strips, and fried tofu. Drizzle your desired amount of dressing over the top. You might have a small amount of dressing leftover depending on your preference.

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I hope you make and enjoy this recipe!

Thank you for being here!

πŸ’–, Katrina

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