Monday, November 21, 2011

Black pepper tofu

November 12, 2011
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
120g butter
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.


  1. Ok, that sounds like a _lot_ of spices, but I love spices, so I'll have to try it. The only black pepper tofu I've had has been almost exclusively flavoured with just black pepper.

  2. ouch - sounds like I might enjoy it if I toned down the heat (even E thinks it sounds hot and he loves the spicy food far more than me)

  3. Wow, he certainly piled on the heat in this recipe! Even your toned-down version sounds decently spicy.

  4. I have made this recipe before. Deliciousness!

    (PS: I didnt bother fry tofu with corn flour either. Just make sure you press the water out of the tofu and they will fry beautifully. My Vietnamese grandma taught me the trick ;)

  5. Oh wow, that is going on next week's dinner menu. Looks uh-maze-ing!

  6. Tofu is so versatile! the spice combinations are just wonderful! I'm sure shallots and ginger and garlic would have made this a hit!

  7. Whenever I see this recipe I really want to make it but I know it won't go down well at home. The man has a massive aversion to black pepper so I always have to use it sparingly in dishes and add more to my own plate at the end. I'll keep this in mind for a night when he's not around...

  8. Hey Cindy and Michael, here's how I adapted the recipe the second time I made it (and I think it worked well) :

    I used the full amount of pepper but NO chili. I guess people who love the chili kick and taste wouldn't like this so much but it allowed me to keep the heat controllable. It's still really peppery though.

    I did coat the tofu in cornflour, cause I love the crispy outside it gets, but I didn't stir it into the sauce... kept them both hot then just spooned the sauce over at the end. This kept the nice texture of the tofu for longer.

    And yep, serve with simple greens (i did steamed baby bok choy with a bit of sesame oil).


  9. Yeah, I skipped the coating part, but it was very good nonetheless. I figured out that the best way to grind large amounts of black pepper is to use a mortar, but instead of just grinding, whacking the peppercorns in the beginning so that they crack open. :-P

  10. Hi Maija! Glad it worked out for you, even without the cornflour coating. I think I'd like freshly whacked pepper, I can imagine a nice variety in its texture that way. :-)