Sunday, November 4, 2012

Black Pepper Tofu

This recipe is easily (and unequivocally) our favorite dish we have made from this cookbook.  Alex and I were unanimous on that point.  And I think both of us reached the decision independent of the other within minutes of taking our first bites of the tofu.  Everything in the cookbook has been very interesting and very unique.  I can honestly say that we don't have a single other cookbook that combines flavors and ingredients in the way that Plenty does.  But not everything has been something that I would make again.  I would make this recipe again and again.  It is delicious.  I would make a few modifications to the recipe.  For one, the original recipe calls for 11 tbsp of butter.  That is an insane amount of butter.  We used about one-third that amount (and substituted 2 tbsp of vegetable oil for 2 tbsp of butter).  We also cut down on the amount of black pepper that the recipe called for because it also sounded slightly excessive.  And then we made one last substitution/alteration - the recipe calls for mild red chilis but the only red chilis I could find at the grocery store were all fairly spicy - cayennes, fresno chilis and cherry peppers.  So we just lazily seeded them and went with it.  I mean, it's not like we used habaneros or anything, but none of those chilis are particularly mild.  One alteration that I wish we had made is to only use the scallion greens for the recipe, or to add the whites to the dish much earlier to cook them down a bit so that they lost a little of their harshness.  I guess another alternative would be to chop the scallions much finer and to potentially use fewer scallions overall (maybe thinly slicing the white and green parts and using say 10 scallions instead of 16 would be enough to tone it down).  Adding the such large hunks of raw scallion at the very end leads to some aggressive onion-y flavor that I wish had been toned down just a bit.  But the flavors of the sauteed shallots, chilis, garlic, etc was delicious.  And it went very nicely with the fried cubes of tofu.  I loved the texture of the tofu cubes - crisp exteriors with soft, pillowy interiors - and the flavor of the sauce, which was sweet, but savory and spicy.  It was absolutely wonderful.  You definitely want to serve this tofu with white rice to soak up the flavors of the sauce because it is delicious.

Recipe after the jump!

Black Pepper Tofu
Adapted from  Plenty:  Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi
By Yotam Ottolenghi

1 3/4 lbs firm tofu
vegetable oil (for frying tofu), plus 2 tbsp vegetable oil, separated
2 tbsp butter
6 medium shallots, thinly sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)
6-8 fresh red chiles (we used a mix of cayennes, cherry peppers and fresno chilis), seeded and thinly sliced
12 garlic cloves, crushed
3 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
3 tbsp kecap manis
3 tbsp light soy sauce
4 tsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp sugar
3-4 tbsp coarsely ground black peppercorns
16 scallions, green parts only, cut into 1 inch segments
    Start with the tofu.  Pour enough oil into a large frying pan or wok to come 1/4 inch up the sides and heat over medium-high heat.  Cut the tofu into large cubes, about 1 x 1 inch.  Toss them in some cornstarch and shake off the excess, then add to the hot oil.  (You'll need to fry the tofu pieces in a few batches.)  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 a plate (or plates) lined with paper towels.

    Remove the oil and any sediment from the pan, then put the butter inside with remaining 2 tbsp oil.  Once the butter is melted, add the shallots, chiles, garlic and ginger.  Saute on low to medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the ingredients have turned shiny and are totally soft. Next, add the soy sauces and sugar and stir, then add the crushed black pepper.

    Add the tofu to warm it up in the sauce for about a minute. Finally, stir in the green onions. Serve hot, with steamed rice.

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