I have realised that the blog has had a serious lack of savoury food in recent months. Everything seems to have been cakes and other treats, so for those of you who don’t have a sweet tooth, I’m sorry!!
This dish comes from my latest food crush – Yotam Ottolenghi. I loved his “The New Vegetarian” series in the Guardian, which resulted in his amazing book Plenty. I’m very keen to maybe try an Ottolenghi theme next year for our Dinner at the Manor supper club as I’d be really interested to create a 100% vegetarian menu.
I have been obsessed with this dish ever since I saw the contestants on the most recent series of Masterchef tackle it. The sheer amount of pepper and chillies used in the dish intrigued me, (5 tbsp black pepper, 8 chillies – I used 6 as that’s all I had in the fridge!) plus I absolutely love tofu. It was pretty much a staple food for me growing up and any new ways to cook with it gets a thumbs up from me. If you’ve never eaten tofu, or say you don’t like it, then I defy you not to enjoy this meal!
I have to say that this was one of the most delicious things I have eaten in a long time.
Now, I’m not going to lie to you – it’s hot. No, not just hot, it’s pretty much nuclear and I almost felt like Adam Richman doing one of his Man vs Food challenges whilst eating it! But in the end I think the intensity coming from the pepper, not the chillies defeated me.
Ottolenghi himself says you might want to tone down the spice levels and I think I will tweak it slightly. The original recipe can be found here, but below is my slightly tweaked version, with chilli / pepper quantities reduced for the next time I make it.
Despite the heat though, the textures and layers of flavour still shone through. The sweetness of the shallot and soy sauce, married with the chillies, pepper and garlic. top that off with crisp tofu and you know you’ve created something really special. I urge you to try it, just adjust the pepper and chillies to taste if you know you’re not going to enjoy the intensity of the heat!
Definitely one I shall be adding to my staple weekday meals!
Black Pepper Tofu
800g firm, fresh tofu (do dry it off with kitchen towel, it will help with the frying)
Cornflour, to coat the tofu
Vegetable oil, for frying, plus a tablespoon extra for later
10-12 small shallots peeled and thinly sliced
4 red chillies, thinly sliced
12 garlic cloves, crushed
1 inch piece tbsp chopped ginger
2 tbsp crushed black peppercorns, coarsely ground, but make sure there aren’t any whole ones banging around!
3 tbsp mirin
3 tbsp light soy sauce
4 tsp dark soy sauce
2 heaped tsp sugar
a bunch (about eight) of small spring onions, cut into 3cm long matchsticks
Start with the tofu. Pour enough oil into a large frying pan or wok to come about 1/2 cm up the sides and heat. Cut the tofu into large cubes, about 1 x 1 inch. Toss them in some cornflour and shake off the excess, then add to the hot oil. (You’ll need to fry the tofu pieces in a few batches so they don’t stew in the pan.)
Fry, turning them around as you go, until they are golden all over and have a thin crust. As they are cooked, transfer them onto paper towels to drain off.
Remove the oil and any sediment from the pan, then add about a tablespoon of veg oil. (Feel free just to use a different pan if you like – I did as was a bit nervous about messing around with hot oil!)
Add the shallots, chiles, garlic and ginger. Cook on a low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the ingredients have turned shiny and are totally soft. Add the soy sauces, mirin and sugar. Stir, and then add the crushed black pepper.
Add the tofu to warm it up in the sauce for about a couple of minutes. Finally, stir in the green onions.
Serve hot, with a bowl of steamed rice. I dare say some nice steamed pak choi would go very well on the side too!