I used to often say that there wasn't room for me and tofu to share the same planet, and I wasn't joking.
Imagine my horror then when a couple of years back my lovely friend, Alli of Pease Pudding, invited me over for dinner and, after I'd already accepted the invitation, told me she was going to try a tofu recipe. Not exactly possible at that stage to suddenly remember a prior engagement, is it?!
So, being the polite person that I am, I was faced with having to suck it up and feign enjoyment of Alli's tofu. I cannot begin to the describe the feeling of dread which engulfed me for the ensuing few hours leading up to that dinner date.
Alli announced that it was an Ottolenghi recipe she was trying, which I must say did go a tiny way towards quelling my fears, but I was still extremely apprehensive as I took my first bite. I'd kind of hoped that the pieces might be small, giving me the option to potentially swallow it straight down, thus avoiding the necessity to bite and chew, in the same way that people who don't like oysters eat them. Unfortunately, this tofu was in big chunks, so that idea wasn't going to fly ... there was no way of getting around the fact that it was going to have to be both bitten and chewed.
It surprises me to this day that, not only did I survive that first bite, but I actually found that it was great. In no time at all I was chowing it down, and actually asking for seconds - yes, I asked for seconds.
Not only did I go back for seconds on that occasion, but I loved it so much that this dish has become one of my most frequently made Ottolenghi recipes. I've had this one in draft for quite a while now, and since our theme this week at I Heart Cooking Clubs is "You Made Me Love You", this seems like the perfect time to finally get around to sharing it with you.
I know for a lot of people the thing they don't like about tofu is the texture, but for me it's always been the taste. I have to confess that I still can't eat those little cubes of slippery tofu lurking around in the bottom of a bowl of miso soup, but this dish packs such a powerful flavour punch with its fiery, spicy sauce that it easily hides the flavour of the tofu itself, and also it's fried and it's crispy - what's not to love about golden, crispy, fried cubes of anything?
I've made a few minor changes to the recipe over time. Firstly, since I usually only make this for myself, I've cut the quantities back to make enough for me for two meals. I use rice flour instead of cornflour to coat the cubes of tofu before frying, because I think it makes it a little bit crisper. I use leeks instead of shallots, because who can be bothered peeling and slicing half a dozen shallots, when you can chop up one leek in a fraction of the time. If you feel like putting yourself through all that peeling and slicing though, then go right ahead. I use about half the amount of garlic in the original recipe, as I'm often teaching yoga classes, and having strong enough garlic-breath to keep the vampires away is never a good look in a yoga teacher. I've adjusted the proportions of sweet, light and dark soy sauces to suit my personal taste, and I use honey instead of sugar. Lastly, I like to finish the dish with fresh coriander rather than spring onions.
If you're as skeptical about tofu as I once was, I hope you'll take the leap of faith and give this recipe a try.
Black Pepper Tofu Recipe
Adapted from recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi
Makes 2 generous servings
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe
450g (1lb) firm tofu
rice flour (approx 1/4 cup)
1x leek, halved lengthwise, washed and thinly sliced
3-4x fresh red chillies, fairly mild, thinly sliced
(I used 1x large mild one and 2x small hot ones)
3x cloves garlic, crushed
2.5cm (1 in) piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon kecap manis (sweet soy sauce)
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons coarsely crushed black pepper
(mortar & pestle makes a great job of this)
4 tablespoons butter
generous handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped
Cut tofu into large 2.5cm (1 in) cubes, drop them into a plastic bag, add the rice flour, and shake well until all the tofu is lightly coated in the flour.
Set a large frying pan over medium-high heat, and add enough oil to generously coat the base of the pan. Shake excess flour off the tofu, and add pieces to the hot oil - depending on the size of your pan, you may need to do this in batches. Fry the tofu until golden brown and crisp on all sides. Once cooked, remove from pan and drain on a paper towel.
Drain any remaining oil from the pan, and wipe out any sediment with a paper towel. Add butter to the pan, and return pan to a low heat. Add leek, chillies, garlic and ginger to the pan, and saute over low heat, stirring from time to time, until everything has softened completely. Add the honey, soy sauces and black pepper to the pan, and stir to combine will.
Return the tofu to the pan and stir to coat well with the sauce and warm it through. Sprinkle over the chopped coriander, and serve immediately with steamed basmati rice.
If you would like to get to know Yotam Ottolenghi a little better, then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and see what they've all cooked up ...
... or check out Plenty and Ottolenghi's other great titles available from Amazon USA, Amazon UK or Fishpond NZ.
I'm also sharing this post this week at See Ya In the Gumbo hosted by the lovely Michelle at Ms. enPlace, at Weekend Cooking hosted by Beth Fish Reads, at My Meatless Mondays hosted by Chaya at My Sweet and Savory, and at Cook Your Books, hosted by the lovely Joyce at Kitchen Flavours.