Burmese Chickpea Tofu Salad (Tofu Thoke) – a non-soy, protein rich and beautifully flavored dish! VEGAN + Gluten-Free!
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Ok, so I gotta say it – if I were served this at a restaurant, I don’t think I’ll be making yummy noises at first sight – this Burmese Chickpea Tofu Salad isn’t really the prettiest dish, but don’t let that fool you! This right here, is a deceptively flavorful dish, my friends, a proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing, if you will.
It all began when I discovered Burmese Chickpea Tofu that you can make at home! Soy-free, vegan and gluten-free, it’s been an exciting find for me! And since I made that first slab, I’ve been on a full-on-mad-scientist-mode, trying to figure out different ways that I can enjoy this new addition to my vegan palette! My favorite so far seems to be lightly toasted in a smidgen of oil – the outside becomes crisp while the insides become molten, like a french fry! It’s absolutely divine! I could just snack on it, sans any more added fixings.
Full disclosure – I’ve never tasted this dish the way the Burmese traditionally make it – but I am familiar with the general flavor of Burmese cuisine, and I drew inspiration from my favorite Burmese Green Mango Salad, and let this recipe published on the NYT act as a guide.
There are three ingredients that are key to achieving that perfect Burmese flavor – fried onions, fried garlic and fried red chilli flakes. You may wonder what fried things are doing in a salad, whose sole purpose is to be light and healthy. You must understand, that although called ‘salads’, Burmese salads are more a quick snack, or at a stretch an appetizer, and not really eaten as a meal by itself. Rice/noodle dishes are meals, while these are more of an accompaniment.
If you are still confused, know that most Burmese dishes (including this salad) is finished off with a dash of the oil that the onion and garlic were fried in. I usually fry all three (onion, garlic and chilli) in one go and bottle up the oil (once cooled) in a specially labeled bottle. Whenever I need a boost of flavor with very few ingredients, this oil gets called to duty, and it works it’s magic unfailingly!
Now at first glance, this Burmese Chickpea Tofu Salad might seem like an extremely complicated cocktail of flavors that probably take a very long time to assemble – but if you smart-prep ahead, you can have this salad at a whim’s notice.
My kitchen (like all Burmese kitchens) is perpetually stocked with the fried condiments, something I picked up from my grandmother! I use the tamarind pulp extensively in Indian cooking, so I always extract a large batch about once in two months and refrigerate. Roasted peanuts are another permanent feature in my pantry. I buy raw peanuts, microwave-roast them, and once cool, peel and bottle it. It’s the perfect activity while watching TV after dinner (also doubles as a snack when you get tired peeling peanuts – an excuse my husband never fails to use). It might seem like a lot of work, but these simple tasks are usually reserved for the most boring or particularly uninteresting of weekend afternoons. Space it out, and it won’t even feel like a chore!
I’ve made this salad two ways – the traditional way with plain slices of chickpea tofu (2nd photo) and my way with toasted slices of tofu (1st photo). And I must say, I am a little partial to the toasted version. I love the texture change this Chickpea Tofu undergoes under a little heat, and it translated beautifully under the flavor-bomb of a dressing!
Make the dressing ahead of time (can be refrigerated for a week), and toast the tofu just before eating. Assemble while still slightly warm (I know, the idea of a warm salad is irksome, but don’t treat this like a regular salad!) and dig in! Although it’s not really eaten as a meal traditionally, I did enjoy having this Burmese Chickpea Tofu Salad over a bed of lettuce and other shredded vegetables! But when you do that, serve the tofu cold and pile on an extra dollop of dressing!
Roasted Gram is just split chickpeas that are soaked+roasted till it can be eaten raw. It’s a common ingredient in the Indian/Burmese household, so you should be able to find this ingredient (at cheaper prices) in all Indian Grocery stores. It finds use as a wonderful protein-rich thickener. Powder this in a powerful blender till smooth and store in an air-tight container for up to a month. Adjust quantity listen in the recipe to vary the thickness of the dressing, or omit it entirely for a more runnier, spicier, tangier dressing.