Pepper Me Happy….

It might be food blog suicide to admit, that while I immensely enjoy cooking, I am not always a great eater. Anyone who has met me might snigger reading that, considering my generous proportions. Let’s ignore the fact. The truth is, that being deeply entrenched in the sounds, smells, scents and tastes of the food as I cook, I reach the dinner table with saturated senses. And then, anything consumed is purely for fuel purposes. A bit sad really, but there you have it.

Tofu wouldn’t be something you’d associate with whetting the appetite. And you would be right. It doesn’t quite taste of anything, has a texture that can feel questionable (erasers, sponges and the like), and disintegrates easily in the pan. Not for the heavy handed, slap dash cook. I liked it in a miso soup and that was the introduction and extent of my acquaintance with this odd block . Friends however, can influence more than your clothes shopping and best pal Jouels was the first to educate me on tofu. Contrary to my food attitudes and habits, Jouels is a bit of a health nut (not to mention a marathon addict…my lungs constrict at the thought) and so tofu, for her, is a staple.

I had Jouels voice ringing in my head as I peered into the cold stock aisle at Tesco looking at a packet of fresh tofu blinking at me. I didn’t have anything to lose; I mean, it’s not like she asked me to buy chicken feet (as good as that may be, but slightly out of the norm for your average British shopping list). Browsing recipes online, I spied Yotam Ottelenghi’s Guardian Column and there he had a recipe for Black Pepper Tofu.

Black peppercorns and I, are involved. Deeply.  Rasams of my childhood, that black pepper and tomato boiled curry broths, remain special and I carry a yearning for it daily. My grandmother had a peppercorn plant which clung seductively to the mango tree, the tresses of berries tumbling down where it willed. I was fascinated by the fact that such a small, dainty looking thing could be so powerful. It’s hard for me to refrain from giving anything I cook, a good grinding of this pungent aromatic. So when I saw this recipe heavily dusted with pepper, I knew it was the one.

Now I have changed a few things from the original, mainly because I would prefer to keep my intestinal tract intact. The original calls for eight red chillies and five tablespoons of ground pepper. I love hot food, I do. But even I know, that this is beyond the capacity of the occasional hot chilli indulger. Excessive amounts like these are nothing if you have built up a tolerance by  consuming it day in and out, as is the norm for most of the South East Asian Countries and even parts of India, particularly the state of Andra Pradesh. I have not quite reached that level. So, I have reduced it to a mere two chillies (the longer, red, milder ones) and a heaped tablespoon of  black peppercorns.

I have also reduced the amount of butter specified by half. It really doesn’t need more. The shallots, though a wonderfully sweet addition to the recipe but not always easy to find here, I have subbed it with your bog standard onions. I also, maybe more controversially, have scrapped the initial cornflour dusting of the tofu and browned them, naked, in the hot oil. On another note, I can understand that tofu might not be your thang. If so, prawns or chicken, indeed tender strips of beef would not be wrong. It really isn’t a big deal. In other words, do as you see fit. It’s your kitchen, your dinner, your tastes.

What happens is that you basically make a masala out of the shallots and other aromatics like ginger, garlic and chillis. Then add your condiments, primarily the sweet soy sauce. I implore you to seek out this ingredient. It goes by the name Indonesian soy too, is thick, syrupy and completely delicious. You will not reserve its use to just this recipe. Stir fries are sensational with it. It’s a vital, non negotiable part of this recipe, though the dark and light soys in here are interchangeable. Add your previously browned tofu and chuck in spring onions at the very end for some fresh crunch. The deep savouriness of the ‘masala’ is so well matched by the salty, sweet of caramel tinged soy sauce, all bearing upon the soft tofu.  To balance the heat, I make the simplest of simple salads. Ribboned cooling cucumber and crunchy carrot, dressed in rice vinegar, sugar and salt added to taste. It all works wonderfully.

No matter what the day has been like, I am ready to eat this meal. I don’t have too many repeat recipes, but this dish has earned a permanent place in the monthly, if not weekly, repertoire. I come to the table with greed motivated speed. It is gratifyingly filling, full throttle on the taste front and, with rice, the crisp covered, heat loaded, soft hearted tofu becomes oddly comforting. I may be sniffling with the heat of the pepper hitting the back of my throat but after I finish two rounds of this, I am saturated only with satisfaction.

To view and print recipe, click here.

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42 comments

  1. Jean

    Yum. That is all.

  2. Where’s the vegan tag? I almost missed this! Thanks for posting. :)

    • Ooops, sorry Izzy. I never even thought of a vegan tag, it so far removed a label for anything I cook. This particular recipe isn’t strictly vegan as it has butter in it, but that’s easily changed! I shall consider it for future posts. :-)

  3. Claudine

    Oh my! I have ‘issues’ with tofu and have ‘ummed’ and ‘aaaahh’d over this recipe in Plenty dozens of times… I am a black pepper fiend though, so if any recipe is going to make me venture into the hitherto weird world of tofu again, it’s this one…

    I actually think your pics are better than the ones in Yotam’s beautiful and sensually covered book, the chillies, garlic, ginger and spring onions are almost tangible and I can certainly smell them from here. As for the last picture, I wish I could just pick up that fork and dig in!

    xx

    • Well then Claudine, my pictures have served their purpose! Thankyou for the compliment! As I said, chicken or beef would be a great substitute for tofu. In the UK, the Cauldron brand sells pretty good tofu, although only one type, firm, was available where I was. It was quite dense and fills you quickly which I was rather surprised about! Hope you have a go.

  4. Beautiful photos – it looks so attractive but oh dear, this wouldn’t be one for me !

    • Did think of you Ms. Betty. I don’t know how this would work without all that pepper. Maybe one to leave on the sidelines while you make wee steps towards eating a wee bit more chilli at a time :-)

  5. D’you know, tofu reminds me of grilled or fried halloumi, which, of course, I love!
    I imagine if anything is going to make tofu taste good, then this would be THE recipe!
    You write so well and your photography….
    Well, let’s just say- can I have an autographed copy of your first cook book?

  6. shazza

    Oh my, Oh my, Oh my!!!! I certianly need to make this now!! Wing Yip here I come!!

  7. Your blog made me giggle as well as admire the photography.
    The worktops really set everything off.

    You may some how guess I am a deep lover of Black Pepper too & I completely
    agree on the tofu front.

    I don’t usually “follow” people but here goes nothing….

    -Pepper

  8. Oh Carrie, you’ve done it again! How do you keep on getting better and better at this photography milarky? It’s astounding! I’m totally enraptured with your pics of the chillies, garlic, ginger and the collage shot. They remind me of SmittenKitchen’s style but oh so much more vibrant, punchy, colourful, zingy – in a word,”you” xxxx

    • Aww thanks Jo. I suppose they are very SK like…I had some slate tiles I wanted to use as a prop and that’s how the pictures developed. Am rather happy with them too! At least it’s not getting worse..yet!

  9. How stunning are your photos??!! I am in awe! Really great work, Carrie :-) I wish I had more time to invest in playing around with my props, but I’m taking most of my photos during my lunch break at the moment, meaning I have 30 mins tops! I also received quite a few new props for backgrounds recently and haven’t quite gotten around to using them yet. Sigh.

    I also love this recipe, as you know, and I have you to thank for introducing me to it :-) I prefer to make it with silken tofu as I love the texture more. In fact, I bought a few packets yesterday and might make this recipe again this week!

    • Oh shucks, thanks! That’s a shame Thanh, that there your time is so limited. Definitely needs a fair bit of space so as to play around. I tend to muck round with the camera when the kids go to school in the morning. , so that gives me at least two hours straight, before normal chores have to start :-))

      I love silken tofu too, its by far my favourite. I think that firm ones are good for beginners as it doesn’t disintegrate as easily. More than often than not, now, I tend to have silken too :-)

  10. NYinRome

    gorgeous! awsome! alive! ;)

  11. Emma @ Sweet Mabel

    Gorgeous photo’s, I’m still not convinced about tofu though!

  12. Hannah de Bevy de La Faverge

    Stunning photographs Carrie! I’m liking the ‘black’ phase a lot!! Will definitely try this dish, but probably with meat and perhaps when the children are eating something else!

    • Thanks Hannah. Cucina recently made it with chicken, with great success. Beef too, with either mushrooms or green beans would be delishush!!

      I like the dark backgrounds too! I bought slate placemats and well, ran with it :-))

  13. You know I completely identified with your first paragraph!! By the time I’m done baking.. all I have is just one bite of whatever it is that I baked!! Strange and sad but true also!! :)
    Am thinking of this recipe with chicken!!!

    • Hi Sarvani, lovely to ‘see’ you here again :-) If I am completely honest, its the savoury food my appetite goes off of. Strangely enough, it doesn’t *quite* happen with baking!! For the sake of my waistline I wish it were the other way around.

      A friend did this recently with Chicken and she said it was absolutely gorgeous! Worked superbly, so on that note, I would encourage you to dive in!

  14. Munchin'Gemma

    Thanks for sharing! : ) I’ve been trying to find a good recipe for the tofu dying (almost) in the fridge….I made this for dinner and turned out yummy! i actually did not add the super hot chili’s, because i can’t take heat…though i love the peppery taste!!

    • Hi Gemma! Thankyou for trying this and posting back! Glad you enjoyed it! This recipe is open to whatever changes you want to make with it and I too, have made it without the chillis, simply because I didn’t have them. Hope you see you around :-)

  15. sounds like THE perfect recipe for an asian food loving vegetarian.
    This will be my next BBQ-Tofu – I am pretty sure. Thanks for providing a new alternative for this saturday’s outdoor cooking session for all my vegeterian friends ;)

  16. This looks so delicious! I love tofu! I live on a small island and don’t think I can find the three different types of soy sauce – I’ve only seen regular, plain old soy sauce. What should I substitute for the others or how should I work with that?

    • Hmm, the sweet soy, is not only sweet, it has a definite stand alone flavour and is much thicker than it\s more liquid, well-known counterpart. The light soy isn’t necessary, you could just use equal amounts of dark and, in the absence of the sweet one, you will need to add a load of sugar to this recipe. Palm sugar would be the best to use, but failing that, a light/dark brown sugar should work. Add to taste, making sure to dissolve it in the pan well, before adding in the tofu and veg. I cannot promise that this will work out perfectly, but there is no harm in trying. It won’t taste vicious thats for sure! Good luck!

  17. That looks soooo good. I have been doing the same recipe with tofu and that’s a stir fry. It’ll be nice to try this recipe and spice things up literally and figuratively. Thanks for sharing!

  18. I haven’t made this for ages – thank-you for reminding me about such a wonderful recipe! (agree with you about the chillies – I like hot food, but I have a limit!!)

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  20. I’m in awe of your beautiful photography! Just found you through Masala Art.

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  22. Great recipe. Amazing photos!
    Tofu looks so delicious! Do you prep Tofu before frying?
    I sometime add a little salt and sprinkle a pinch of flour on the tofu before pan fry, not sure if it will make a difference.

    • Thanks, the recipe originally calls for a very messy coating of corn flour on the tofu before frying. If in the mood I do it, other times I can’t be bothered ! Flour or cone flour, both give a nice crisp texture to the tofu, without toughening it up.

  23. I have been wanting to try this recipe from Ottolenghi’s book Plenty for some time. I remember looking at the pics and drooling thinking must make it, glad to hear you don’t need that much butter cause I was also thinking god thats a lot! Anyway will give it a go and halve the butter now, may stick to the full amount of chili though! Nice post. :-)

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