WHAT YOU’LL NEED
1/2 cup rice vinegar
3 Tbs sugar
1 tsp salt
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 or 2 fresh red Thai chiles, most seeds removed, finely chopped
2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 lime, zested and juiced completely
2/3 cup preferred oil (for frying)
1 medium eggplant, or about 12 baby eggplants, cut into 3/4-inch pieces or rounds, about 2 loosely-packed cups total
300 grams/10.5 oz soba noodles
200 grams/7 oz tofu, or more as desired
1 large ripe mango, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 heaping cup fresh herb leaves, two or three of the following: cilantro, basil, Thai basil, and mint, roughly chopped or ribboned *
1/3 red onion or 2 shallots, very thinly sliced
*I used equal portions of Thai basil, fresh mint, and cilantro
WHAT YOU’LL DO
First, place the tofu (still in a block) on a rimmed plate lined with paper towels, cover with another layer of paper towels, and another plate. Set something weightier (like a bowl with a bag of flour or rice, or coffee table book) on the plate. The goal is to push some of the moisture out of the tofu. The trick to crispy fried tofu is it being drier when you do so. Try to leave it untouched for 20 mins or so, while you prep other ingredients and when you are ready to fry, pat dry, and cut into 1 inch cubes.
In a small saucepan gently warm the vinegar, sugar and salt until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and add in the garlic, chile, and sesame oil. Allow to cool, then add the lime zest and juice. Set aside, this will be your dressing.
Heat up your frying oil in a large pot or skillet and shallow-fry the eggplant in small batches, so that the eggplant is in an even, single layer. Flip or shake pan so it is able to brown evenly on all sides. Once golden brown remove to a colander, sprinkle liberally with salt and leave there to drain. Repeat the steps in the same oil with the tofu.
Cook the noodles according to package directions in a pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally. They should be tender but still al dente. Drain and rinse well under running cold water, shake off as much of the excess water as possible, then leave to dry on a dish towel or paper towel lined bowl.
In a mixing bowl toss the noodles with the dressing, mango, eggplant, half of the herbs and the onion. You can now leave this aside for up to two hours before serving for flavors to meld. Just before serving, add in the rest of the herbs and fried tofu, mix well, and then serve.