This is a tofu stir fry with a difference. In some of my descriptions for other tofu recipes, I have described dishes as "one of my favourite easy tofu recipes" or the "best way to cook tofu" etc. Forget all that. Yotam Ottolenghi has changed everything with this amazing fried tofu recipe.
When I tasted his Black Pepper Tofu stir fry (well his recipe - unfortunately I had to make it myself!), I was blown away.
The dish is filled with bold flavours and an intense spiciness. Yet it achieves a perfect and satisfying balance of flavours - and yes, I am talking about tofu here. If it was difficult to make, I would say it was worth it. It is, however, very easy and I am amazed at how many times I've made it since I first saw it in Ottolenghi's column in the Guardian newspaper.
These days Yotam Ottolenghi seems be famous for NOT being a vegetarian in spite of making amazing vegetarian food. He recently told the New York Times that vegetarians, "in general don't like me". Well this vegetarian is very much a fan. If you haven't yet got your hands on his vegetarian cookbook, Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London's Ottolenghi, it is time to treat yourself. It is a spectacular collection of dishes with bold flavours, rich colours, stunning fresh ingredients and simple innovative cooking. This Black Pepper Tofu is just one of them.
If you are not familiar with kecap manis, it is a deliciously thick sweetened and seasoned soy sauce from Indonesia. If your local supermarket doesn't have it (and there's a good chance it doesn't depending where you live), you should find it in a good Asian supermarket. Failing that ABC Kecap Manis is an excellent variety which you can buy online.
The version of this dish that appears in the book Plenty, is seriously hot. Too hot for me I concede. I did try the dish with the original quantities of chili and black pepper but just couldn't handle it! In this version, I've roughly halved the recipe anyway to serve 2 rather than 4 but I've also cut back on the chili and black pepper. If you want to use Ottolenghi's heat level in this version, use 2½ tablespoons of black pepper and 4 red chilis. I've cut down the butter too and it works fine. Sorry Yotam.
450g/1 pound of firm tofu, cut into large chunks. I pressed mine first, just because I always do. Instructions are on the how to cook tofu page.
2 tablespoons of cornflour or cornstarch
Sunflower or groundnut oil for frying
30g/¼ stick of butter
6 shallots, sliced thinly
6 garlic cloves, crushed
1½ tablespoons of grated ginger
1 large red chilli, sliced thinly
1½ tablespoons of light soy sauce
1½ tablespoons of Kecap Manis (sweet soy sauce)
2 teaspoons of dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon of sugar
2 tablespoons of crushed black peppercorns. The book says to use a spice grinder or pestle and mortar. I've used black pepper that I've bought pre-crushed and it was fine - honestly.
4 scallions or spring onions, cut into thin strips
Heat a generous layer of oil in a large frying pan, skillet or wok and set over a medium to high heat. Toss the tofu in the cornflour or cornstarch to coat it lightly and carefully add the tofu to the pan. Fry for a few minutes, turning regularly until the tofu is crisp and a light golden brown colour. Remove the tofu from the pan and set aside.
Remove any excess oil from the pan, wiping down with a paper towel. Toss in the butter. When the butter has melted, add the shallots, garlic, ginger and chili. Cook very gently for 10 to 15 minutes until very soft. The original recipe uses over twice the butter so feel free to do that. If you use my quantity of butter, you do need to watch more carefully and stir more often to prevent sticking or burning.
Now add the soy sauces, kecap manis, sugar and black pepper. Stir well to coat and heat the tofu. This will only take a minute or two.
Scatter over the scallions or spring onions and serve immediately with plain steamed rice .
The book is also available with free international shipping from The Book Depository.