Celery and beancurd stick salad

Like an on-off relationship, I’ve been through a lot with this salad. I love it. I can’t stand it. I never want it to be out of my reach. It’s not your typical meet-cute. I was hungover one day and wandered into a local Northern Chinese restaurant. The celery salad caught my eye and for better or worse, it’s been a part of my life ever since.

If I’m in a filthy mood, the salad soothes my stomach and seems to take the hard edges off. A few months ago, I discovered that the restaurant had taken my beloved hate meal off the menu. How. Dare. They.

Food for cranky people (or is that just me?)

Food for cranky people (or is that just me?)

Normally I despise celery (although strangely enough, I love celery seed) so why I consume a dish that is 70% comprised of the stuff is a mystery. The other star of the salad is the dried beancurd stick. Great in traditional braises, it’s a welcome addition for protein and texture. Soaking the beancurd sticks takes a while so when I’m in a hurry, I submerge them in boiling water to hasten the softening process. After 20 minutes or so, the beancurd sticks should be pliable but still chewy. The dressing leans heavily on sesame oil and bruised garlic to add flavour. Sometimes I pump up the salad’s flavour and texture by folding through a handful of sesame seeds that have been toasted until deeply nutty.

At this time of year, there’s a general tendency to over indulge. This salad could be a welcome respite from rich and stodgy food. Originally intended to be a side dish, feel free to pair it with other things. It serves as a refreshing contrast to fried noodles, doughy dumplings and meat-heavy feasts. For a solitary “I’m cranky, don’t talk to me” meal, I team the salad with a bowl of steamed rice that’s topped with a soy drizzled, frilly-edged fried egg. Eating this may be my masticating form of self-flagellation.

Is it a replica of the lost, lamented hate salad? Not quite, but it does ease my mood on the days I get out of the wrong side of bed.

Feeds: Two cranky people for a one-note meal (four normal people as a side dish)
Start cooking: An hour before eating

Celery and beancurd stick salad

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 sticks x celery (about 300 grams)
  • 2 x dried beancurd sticks
  • 1 x garlic clove (peeled)
  • 1/4 cup x rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons x sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon x caster sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon x salt
  • 1-2 tablespoons x toasted sesame seeds – optional

Method:

  1. Briefly rinse and then submerge the beancurd sticks in hot water. Leave for 20 minutes to soften.
  2. While the beancurd is softening, make the dressing. Whisk together the rice vinegar, sesame oil, salt and sugar in your serving bowl.
  3. Press the knife onto the peeled garlic clove until it splits into pieces. Add the bruised garlic to the dressing. Set aside to allow flavours to develop.
  4. Slice the celery sticks diagonally at a sharp angle. If you have any leaves from the tender heart of the celery, reserve until serving.
  5. Once the beancurd sticks have softened, remove from the hot water, lightly pat dry and slice on the diagonal, echoing the shape of the celery.
  6. Fill a medium sized pot half full with water and bring to the boil.
  7. I use the soaked beancurd sticks as is for the salad, but if they’re too rubbery for your liking, blanch the pieces in the pot for 5 minutes or until tender. Remove from the hot water and drain well.
  8. Using the same pot, blanch the sliced celery for 45-60 seconds to soften slightly.
  9. Remove the celery from the pot, rinse with cold water briefly, then drain well.
  10. Fold the blanched celery, reserved celery leaves and beancurd stick pieces in the serving bowl until lightly coated with the dressing. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
  11. If you have time, let the salad sit for at least 30 minutes to absorb the flavours of the dressing, otherwise consume straight away. I like to eat it lightly chilled.
  12. Optional – sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds just before serving. Eat with steamed rice and a fried egg for a more complete meal.
Celery and beancurd stick salad

Celery and beancurd stick salad

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