Jun 7, 2010

Tofu Ceviche and Watermelon Pearls

Do you remember last season's Top Chef episode when Hector Santiago made Tofu Ceviche? It was a very warm day today, and I really didn't want to heat up the kitchen too much with hot food, so I looked online to see if that recipe was available, and viola!
The recipe is quite challenging, with the Mango and Cilantro Pearls, but I thought I'd give it a try- it was just too cool to pass up. It's made by heating juice with agar and then dropping it (drop by drop) into canola oil that's chilled in the refrigerator. I was missing the mango, so I tried it with watermelon. At first, the agar mixture just sank to the bottom of the oil and didn't form "pearls." So I stuck the oil in the freezer and tried it again, with some success but I would recommend letting the agar mixture cool a bit so it's not so hot and quicker to set.

The recipe that I found was a little hard to follow, so hopefully mine will make it a bit simpler. I opted to use pre-made tortillas and happened to have a really cool jar of habanero pickled garlic that Mark got from the Farmer's Market, and used it in the dressing instead of sprinkled on top. I changed a few things around, so you could say that mine is a variation... or one of my "spinz."

Marinated Tofu:
1 package extra firm tofu (14 oz.), drained and pressed to remove most of the water
1/3 C. orange juice
1/3 C. lemon juice
1/3 C. lime juice
1 T. tequilla silver (clear)
2 tsp. kosher salt

Cucumber Avacado Salad:
1 large cucumber (about 2-3 cups), cubed
1 ripe avocado (about 1 cup), cubed
1/2 C. fresh tomato, chopped
1/2 C. green onions, finely chopped
1/4 C. fresh cilantro, chopped
1 T. fresh jalapeno chili (minced)
Dressing for salad:
1 dried guajillo chili + 2 dried puya chilies (soaked in warm water to rehydrate)
3-4 cloves of pickled garlic (you can use the original recipe to make your own if you don't have store-bought)
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 T. agave nectar
1/4 C. water (or more)
salt to taste (I used about 1/2 tsp.)

Watermelon Pearls:
fresh watermelon (enough to make about 3 cups), cubed
pinch of salt
1 tsp. agave nectar
2 tsp. agar flakes
small bowl of canola oil, chilled in the freezer (won't solidify, so don't worry!)

Tortilla Chips:
(as many as you'd like) small corn tortillas, cut into quarters*
oil for frying
*You can use store-bought tortilla chips if you want, but fresh ones are SO good!


First put your bowl of canola oil into the freezer to chill for a good hour.

Cut the tofu into small bite-sized cubes. Mix the marinade ingredients in a shallow casserole dish and add the tofu, spreading evenly. Put into your refrigerator to chill.

For the salad, put the soaked chilies, and the rest of the dressing ingredients into a blender or food processor, and blend until smooth. I didn't have 6 chilies as the original recipe called for, so I subbed fresh jalapenos for more heat, but didn't blend those- just added to the salad. Add more water if needed (should have the consistency of a thin salad dressing). Add dressing to the salad, and toss.

For the watermelon pearls, puree the pearl ingredients until completely liquified. Strain enough to make 1 cup of juice. Add the agar, and heat until boiling, then turn down to simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring. When agar is dissolved, take off the heat and let stand until warm but still liquid (not hot).
Drop droplets into the bowl of oil. It should float for a bit. If it sinks immediately, then let the liquid cool down a bit more. Put everything back into the freezer to set.

To assemble:

1. Place salad on the bottom of your plate.
2. Top with "ceviched" tofu cubes.

3. Scoop out watermelon pearls and strain out the excess oil, then place the pearls on top of everything.

4. Finish with a spoonful of tofu marinade, drizzled on top.

4. Place tortilla chips on the side.


  1. i totally remember that episode - and they are raved about it. awesome that you were able to make those pearls - that looked so complicated! what a top chef you are! :)

  2. Thanks for the compliment! It took me a while to figure out how to make those little suckers! :)

  3. Seriously, what food can't you cook?? You always impress with your kitchen skills - good luck with the restaurant, you'll do fabulously I'm sure!!

  4. Nice adaptations. I'm usually not too big on "raw" tofu, but I'd definitely give this a shot!

  5. looks interesting. it's so hot here now, i'm thinking about no-cook meals too. i don't mind doing work, but i feel bad about heating up the kitchen when i have the air conditioner at full blast.