When I was about 2 years old, my best friend in the whole world was Jon. He was 6 months younger, but a whole head taller than me, and while I was very quiet and shy, he could wail loud enough for the both of us (or so my mom says). Where I would scamper, he would lumber. One of the only things we seemed to agree upon was that pigeons were meant for chasing (we're city kids), but despite our differences, we were practically inseparable: JonJon and SaSa. Then his family moved down the Peninsula, and our paths wouldn't again cross until much later.
My apologies for the blurry, dark photo. It was late, and I was hungry.
In college, my Jon was my buddy Kevin. Again, he was the outgoing one, and quiet little me always seemed to be tagging along to his parties. His social sphere was only slightly smaller than the campus population, whereas I tended to stick to a very small circle of friends. So it was a strange twist of fate when I found out that Kevin and Jon were close friends, having met through the university's crew team.
Fast-forward about 15 years to last weekend when we hosted Jon, Kevin, and their awesome wives for a little dinner party conceived through my Momofuku cookbook. We enjoyed an upscale ssam dinner (Korean barbecue served as make-your-own lettuce wraps) with kalbi-style New York strip and grilled pork belly and an insalata Caprese-inspired cherry tomato salad that I was dying to try. Rather than nesting the tomatoes on soft disks of mozzarella, Chang substitutes silken tofu and replaces zesty strips of basil with equally pungent Japanese shiso.
Keep reading for a wintry take on the Caprese salad.
The resulting dish was fantastic, even heading into Winter (I can only imagine what it's like when the tomatoes are at their peak of flavor in late Summer). And in one of my pensive moments (because — if you haven't already noticed — I am a quiet person), I realized it's a terrific metaphor for these friendships: seemingly mismatched ingredients intersecting in a harmonious medley. For the recipe, read on.
Note: The original recipe calls for blanching some of the tomatoes and removing their skins. While this might be a visual upgrade for an elegant occasion, it's definitely a low ROI effort when it comes to flavor and texture. Your guests will certainly not know the difference if you simply halve the entire tomato lot, which is how I'm representing the recipe below. Because without that step, this is actually a quick and easy salad for a weeknight dinner. And I found that the recipe makes far more dressing than you'll actually need. Use my shake-in-a-jar trick, and you can store it in the fridge to use again.
Adapted from Momofuku by David Chang and Peter Meehan
- 2 tubes organic silken tofu
- 2 1/2 pints cherry tomatoes (try finding a variety of colors)
- 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
- 1 tablespoon usukuchi (light-colored) soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1/2 cup grapeseed or vegetable oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 6 shiso leaves
- Carefully use a chef's knife to slice through the tube of tofu. Gently coax the tofu out of the plastic onto a cutting board. Slice into 1/2-inch rounds (you should end up with 12–18).
- Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and place in a large bowl. Combine the vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and vegetable oil in a small jar, seal with the lid, and shake until well-combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle a few tablespoons of the dressing over the tomatoes and gently toss to coat.
- Place 2–3 rounds of tofu in each shallow serving bowl. Drizzle with another teaspoon or two of dressing, and top with a scoop of tomatoes. Chiffonade the shiso and use it to garnish each plate.