East-West Pesto-Stuffed Tofu in Miso Broth

Serves four to six. Ric-ter Scale *1

So you ask me, what's pesto? 'Pesto' comes form the word 'pestle.' The pesto that we are so familiar with is the ubiquitous Genovese pesto featuring pignoli, garlic, basil and sharp cheese. Let's take liberties. Use that pestle or in this case a food processor to make herbal pastes to flavor your cooking beautifully. Call it pesto. Go ahead, there is no Culinary Terminology cop listening!

This preparation combines Asian and Italian in a synchronistic way. Nuts, ginger, sesame, greens yum! We presented this dish at the Culinary Institute of America's Winter Dining Series in 1998, and we wooed the tofu haters into love. It was paired with a Cal-Italian red, Barbera, from Monte Volpe. What a knockout course! The soft red wine picked up on the nuts and sun-dried tomatoes, while the red miso was reminiscent of red meat juices. Perfecto!

  • 3 blocks extra firm Tofu
  • 1 cup walnut halves
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons grated ginger
  • 2 packed cups of cleaned arugula, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1/2 cup scallion greens, chopped
  • 1/2 cup basil, coarsely chopped (reserve the stems for miso broth)
  • 1 tablespoon barley malt
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup black sesame seeds and sesame oil for searing
  • 1/8 cup dark sesame oil for sauteing the tofu


(Look Ma, no added salt!) Preheat oven to 400 F. Put the walnuts on a cookie sheet and roast in a 375-degree oven for six to eight minutes or until golden and their sweet aroma is released.

If your sun-dried tomatoes are soft and moist, simply pour hot tap water over them and let them soak for 10 minutes to soften a bit more. If they are very dry and firm, bring a small pot of water to a boil, put in the tomatoes and cover. Turn off the heat and let them soak for 10 to 15 minutes to soften.

Put the tomatoes, walnuts, arugula, ginger, garlic, scallion greens, basil, barley malt, and olive oil in your food processor, and pulse until it begins to break down a bit. Now run the machine for 20-30 seconds. Scrape down the sides and run it again until you have the semi-smooth consistency of a classic pesto. Set aside while you prepare the tofu and the broth.

To stuff the tofu, split the tofu in half like a layer cake. Now take each half and quarter it into four equal triangles. Cut a 1-inch slit into the long side of each triangle. Using something very small, like a demitasse spoon, stuff as much tofu into each triangle as you can without cracking it. Be careful and work with delicate hands. Pour the sesame seeds onto a plate and gently stamp one side of each triangle into the sesame seeds. Set them aside until the miso broth is ready.

Miso Broth

This also works as a deliciously simple soup with brown rice and tofu cubes.

  • 5 cups water
  • 1/2 cup medium carrot, matchstick julienne
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup dried hijiki or arame seaweed
  • 1 medium leek, white part only, julienne
  • 1/2 cup shittake mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons dry sherry reserved basil stems tied up with string
  • 1 quarter-sized slice of ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground star anise
  • 3 tablespoons tamari
  • a generous cracking of black pepper
  • 1/4 cup red miso paste

Put all ingredients except the miso in a non-reactive pot. Bring to a boil and then simmer 15 minutes. Remove the basil stem bundle and stir in the miso. Now prepare the triangles.

Heat a large skillet, preferably non-stick, and add the sesame oil. When the oil gets nice and hot and begins to smoke, carefully put in the tofu triangles, sesame seed side down. Cook for two to three minutes or until nicely caramelized. Use tongs and gently turn over each triangle. Ladle miso broth into the skillet, being careful not to pour the broth on the triangles. You don't want to wash the sesame seeds off the tofu. Add enough broth to come about three-quarters of the way up the side of the triangles. Bring to a boil then turn off the heat. This will warm the tofu through.

For the Finish:

  • 4 cups cooked brown rice
  • 1 cup of sun-dried tomatoes, julienne
  • 1 cup sunflower sprouts (optional)
  • 1 cup basil leaves coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup scallions, cut on a long bias

To plate four servings, use large bowls with a low profile. Put a generous serving of rice into the center of each bowl. Sprinkle with equal amounts of the remaining garnish ingredients. Arrange four triangles per person around the rice, on top of the garnish. (A garnish on the bottom, now there's something new!) Ladle in enough miso broth to cover the tofu by about half. Serve with a fork and a spoon.