Last winter I fell in love with pomelos. It was one of those hot and heavy romances, too.
From the moment you rip into that thick, pillowy rind and that distinctive musky smells fills the room, it demands your attention. It demands all of your senses, and eating it is a process! From the sinking of your fingers into the rind to carefully pull apart and peel the papery skin of each segment, to the intoxicating fragrance, to the icicle like globules of fruit, the burst of each individual globule as you bite into it, and the textured but still juicy citrus bitterness – it’s a whole body experience! I ate so many pomelos…
Last winter I made Gỏi Bưởi for the first time too, a Vietnamese pomelo salad that marries the citrus fruit with both shrimp and pork (though sometimes chicken is used instead of pork). It’s a vibrant, fresh salad that balances the brightness of the fresh herbs and pomelo with the unctuousness of the fatty, flavorful pork – it’s a mouthful of different textures and flavors all pulled together by a classic Vietnamese dressing of lime juice, fish sauce and chili garlic sauce. It was amazing.
This year, as the pomelos came out to play in season again, I wanted to remake it. But, one of my eating goals for this year is to reduce the amount of meat our family eats, so I wanted to recreate the recipe without the pork – while still keeping all the things it brings to the salad. The flavor, the texture, the chew.
I got to work with crispy tofu crumble and came out with a great rendition of a classic. The recipe uses Andrea Nguyen’s Gỏi Bưởi as a starting point (she has a couple of recipes for it on her site) as she keeps it simple and classic – I love how her recipes make Vietnamese food approachable for those who did not grow up cooking Vietnamese food (check out her most recent book too!). This recipe, too, is easy enough for anyone to make!
As an aside, I think it’s also important that recipe developers are able to understand their relationships to where their recipes came from. I’m not Vietnamese, I didn’t grow up eating this dish, so where and how did I come to eat and make this? It’s part of a respectful relationship to the food, the culture, and the people who have been making this dish for a long time. I’m not creating something innovative and novel; I’m building on and being in relationship to other’s work – so it’s important to note what that work is and how it helped you. Citation is a relational act; keep good relations. (More on this another time, likely!)
The tofu is crumbled and crisped up with lime juice, fish sauce and chili garlic sauce to create something texturally close to minced pork. Frying the tofu in the fragrant shallot oil adds more umami goodness and some oil to mimic what the pork would bring to the salad.
The final result is fresh, packed with freshness and vibrancy, funky with a bit of spice, and also protein packed enough to be a terrific light meal alongside some rice. All, without the pork. It was a hit for our family and I’m sure it will be for yours as well! I think this might be our new favorite way of making this salad!
Vietnamese Pomelo Salad (Gỏi Bưởi) with Shrimp and Crispy Tofu Crumbles
This salad is a riff off the Vietnamese classic Gỏi Bưởi that replaces the fatty, flavorful goodness of the pork with equally delicious and flavored tofu crumbles. The texture of the meat is also replicated by breaking down the tofu and frying it until it is crispy and chewy - the perfect textural and flavorful accompaniment to this salad. It's fresh and vibrant - fresh herbs marry the juicy bitterness of the citrus. It has a mild spiciness, complemented by the funk of the fish sauce, and the crispy shallots on top add another layer of texture. It's packed with flavors and textures that make this a perfect bite of Vietnam, especially when pomelos are in season.
- 1 block extra firm tofu (usually 340-400g)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1 tablespoon chili garlic sauce
- 2-3 small shallots, thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
- 1/2 pound large or jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1 medium pomelo, peeled and in broken up segments
- 1 carrot, peeled and cut into fine matchsticks
- ¼ cup mint leaves, roughly chopped or torn
- 2 tablespoons cilantro leaves, roughly chopped or torn
- For the Dressing:
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons chile garlic sauce
Remove the tofu block from the package, draining out the excess liquid. We want the tofu to be as dry as possible to shorten the cooking time, so place the block between two paper towels and gently press down. Squeeze gently from all sides to press out as much liquid as you can.
Crumble the tofu into a medium bowl. The size of the crumble isn't super important at this stage, though the more it is broken up, the more coverage the marinade is going to get. Add the one tablespoon each of fish sauce, lime juice, and chili garlic sauce, as well as the 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Stir well and set aside to marinate.
Heat up the vegetable oil in a small skillet over medium heat. To help the shallots crisp up, separate the shallot slices into individual layers and lay them on a paper towel. Place another paper towel on top and press gently, soaking up as much excess moisture as possible.
Once the oil is hot, add the shallots and fry, stirring occasionally. After about 5 minutes the shallots will begin turning golden and you'll have to watch them more carefully, stirring often. They will soften and them begin crisping up, and as they do you need to remove them from the pan - using a slotted spoon, tongs or a fork - onto a paper towel to cool. Keep the now fragrant shallot oil! We're going to use it in the next step.
Reheat the shallot oil in the pan on medium heat and add the tofu crumble. The goal here is to fry the crumbles until they are an even crispy brown, resembling minced meat. How long this will take will depend on how much liquid is still in your tofu and how big the pieces of tofu are. In the pan, stir regularly and break up larger pieces of tofu to speed the browning process. The end result should be evenly browned and have a nice chew rather than the softness of the uncooked tofu. This should take somewhere in the 10-20 minute range.
While this is going on, if you are using uncooked shrimp (but, by all means, feel free to buy precooked shrimp and just thaw) place your shrimp in a pot of water and bring to a boil. Cook until the shrimp turn a bright pink. Drain, rinse in cool water, peel and devein, and set aside.
Mix the final 5 ingredients together in a small bowl for the dressing.
Once the tofu and shrimp are cooked, you are ready to assemble. In a large bowl, add tofu crumbles, shrimp, pomelo pieces, and carrot matchsticks. Add the dressing and mix well. Add the mint and cilantro and toss lightly. Serve on plates or in bowls and top with the crispy shallots.
1 Other appropriate additions to the salad might be thinly sliced Thai bird's eye peppers for more heat, red bell pepper, cucumber, shredded cabbage, or peanuts for some extra crunch to the salad. 2 Everything can be prepared ahead of time, have the crispy shallots made, the tofu crumble and shrimp in the fridge, and then simply assemble before the meal - it's a handy salad to use for a meal that you don't have time to be in the kitchen extensively beforehand.