When Michael first bought me Plenty a year ago, we were both immediately drawn to the photo of black pepper tofu. It's taken us quite some time to try it out. In the meantime Carla and K veganised it and offered their thoughts - the most important one being that the original recipe uses more pepper than anyone can stand!
The original ingredient list is certainly packed with pungency: 5 tablespoons of black pepper, 8 chillies, 12 shallots, 12 cloves of garlic and 16 spring onions. Admittedly we cut a few quantities down, but most of the subduing and sweetening is performed by a long, gentle fry in lots of butter. Our tofu was deeply savoury, with a heat level I could happily handle.
Ottolenghi's recipes are rarely short or simple, and the other notable process here is shallow-frying cornflour-coated tofu cubes. They develop a nice golden crust, all the better for the sauce to cling to. That said, I'd also be tempted to try quickly stir-frying the tofu sans cornflour.
The black pepper tofu was loved by all who ate it. We served a fancy Ottolenghi salad on the side but it was completely upstaged. This dish needs nothing more than steamed greens and rice to support it.
Black pepper tofu
(adapted from a recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty,
recipe available online)
~1/2 cup vegetable oil, for frying
1kg firm tofu
~1/3 cup cornflour
12 shallots, thinly sliced
6 mild red chillis, thinly sliced
12 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons ginger, minced
5 tablespoons kecap manis
5 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons castor sugar
3 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
8 spring onions, cut into 3cm segments
Pour oil into a frypan until it's 5mm deep and bring it to medium-high heat. Chop the tofu into 2cm cubes, tossing each cube in cornflour and placing it in the hot oil. Cook the tofu cubes for a minute or two top and bottom, until lightly browned, then transfer them to absorbent paper. It took me about 4 batches to fry all the tofu.
Remove all the oil from the pan and clean any sediment from the bottom. Return the pan to low-medium heat and melt the butter in it. Add the shallots, chilli, garlic and ginger, sautéing gently until very soft, about 15 minutes. Add the kecap manis, soy sauce, sugar and pepper, combining everything thoroughly.
Add the tofu back into the frypan, stirring it through to coat it in the sauce. Stir in the spring onions, then serve it all with steamed greens and rice.