These days, roaming street vendors carrying various delicacies are all the rage. I don’t know about you, but I distinctly remember the yellow Schwan ice cream truck, complete with that tantalizing bell, slowly cruising through my neighborhood once or twice a week when I was a kid. Those vendors were banking on the fact that we kids would be out romping around the yard and that, the second we heard that unmistakable melody, we’d sprint into the house to claim our allowance. For me, it was either fudge ripple or butter pecan, since those were the best.
In Chicago, we’ve been without these nomadic food trucks, other than those bearing ice cream and the tamale guy who isn’t in a truck, but on foot carrying a red cooler; he happened to dive into Lemmings one night after I’d stuffed my face with so much food I couldn’t stand the sight of corn husk. Just this month, Flirty Cupcakes came into town, selling ‘cakes by the neighborhood; apparently they were right near my building not long ago, but since I hadn’t yet followed them on twitter I sadly missed out…
You won’t ever catch me saying this again, but LA is where it’s at, at least when it comes to roving food trucks. The real newsworthy truck that seemed to start all the hype was Kogi BBQ, a local sensation that tweets the location of their 4 trucks (4!) chock full of Korean-Mexican fusion delights such as bbq pork tacos, kimchi quesadillas, and even Korean desserts. Aside from Kogi, there are dozens of these traveling trucks, and plenty of ways to find them including a site called Roaming Hunger. If it weren’t for all the things I dislike in LA, I’d move there for what sounds to be the best thing since sliced bread.
Thanks to the Flying Pig, I get to stay away from Los Angeles AND get a slice of LA’s famous treats. They’re featured in a recent Food & Wine issue, and have shared a recipe as a result. In LA, their ginormous pastel pink truck whizzes around town doling out steamed pork belly buns, tamarind duck tacos, and these crunchy Korean tacos that just happen to be made with …
… tofu. Yep, you got it. The bane of a meat lover’s existence, if truth be told. Me? I happen to adore tofu – it’s always part of any Thai dish I order; I love the way the little cubes soak up any flavor given to them, grasping for attention like a middle child or a wilting plant on my back porch. Misunderstood even, and often left aside.
But not here, folks. Swaddled in Korean pepper paste, tossed gently in cornstarch, and crisped perfectly, tofu is not your enemy here. More like the star of the show, the main attraction, the one you bring home to meet your parents knowing that this is the one that will change everything.
Korean Tofu Tacos
Adapted from Food & Wine via Flying Pig, May 2010; makes 8 tacos
The Korean chili powder and red pepper paste can be purchased online, but your best bet is a Korean grocer if there’s one in your area. In Chicago, that would be Joong Boo Market, where their Asian pears are the size of a grapefruit! I didn’t get the chili powder b/c I could only find ginormous bags of it, so I used hot smoked paprika instead.
One 14-ounce package extra-firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 T Korean chile powder or hot paprika
1 T Korean pepper paste (gochujang)
1 T finely grated garlic
1 T finely grated ginger
1 T toasted-sesame oil
3/4 c cornstarch
2 c canola oil, for frying
8 corn or flour tortillas
4 T Hoisin sauce
kimchi (to taste)
1 medium-sized Asian pear, julienned
3 scallions, sliced thinly
Place the tofu on a towel and drain for at least 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine 1 T of the chile powder with the pepper paste, garlic, ginger and sesame oil and season with salt. In another large bowl, whisk the cornstarch with the remaining 2 tablespoons of chile powder and 1 tablespoon of salt.
In a medium, deep skillet, heat the oil until it reaches 365 F and preheat oven to 350 F. Add the tofu to the chile sauce and stir gently to coat. Scrape the tofu into the cornstarch mixture and toss to coat. Transfer the coated tofu to a colander to tap out the excess cornstarch. Fry the tofu in one batch, stirring occasionally, until golden and crunchy, 3 to 3 1/2 minutes; maintain the heat near 360 if possible. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the crunchy tofu to a paper towel–lined rack and sprinkle with salt. Meanwhile, wrap tortillas in aluminum foil and warm in oven for about 8 minutes.
Serve tacos and tofu with Hoisin (~1/2 T per taco), scallions, pear, and kimchi.