Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Chilled Tofu with Chilli & Spring Onion

I'm yet to convince everyone about the joys of tofu, but I'm giving it a good go. Rather than just a vegetarian meat substitute, I think the Chinese and the Japanese recipes are always the best, letting the natural flavour of the tofu shine through rather than marinating the hell out of it and masquerading it as something it's not.

There are so many different types of tofu; tofu puffs, deep fried till golden brown, airy and crunchy soak up and release sauces it is braised in like a sponge. Tofu skin, often wrapped around a juicy morsel of meat can be delicate, giving way under the teeth to the nugget inside. Soft, silken wobbly cubes, such as in this recipe, slip around the mouth like jelly. Tofu desserts, like here, can be refreshing or warming, depending on the time of year and the temperature at which they are served. As such, I just don't believe it when people say they don't like it. It's like not liking potatoes. It's just not possible.

I was reminded of this dish at The Empress of Sichuan, recently opened in Chinatown. Of a few dishes, this one impressed me the most; the spicy dressing was fiery and yet cooled by the chilled cubes of tofu. Sichuan pepper gave it a trademark mouth numbing and especially eaten with hot rice, the temperature contrasts were pleasing. Sesame is the dominant flavour here, with coriander and spring onion giving some freshness, and heat from chillis and ginger. Served on the side with some ferocious chicken with chillis and some stir-fried okra, it was, again, my favourite of the three. Quick to make and easily done in advance, it's a dish that will be gracing my table often.

Chilled Tofu with Chilli & Spring Onion

Serves 2 as a side

1 block of silken soft tofu
3 slices of ginger
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
2 red birds eye chillis
50ml dashi stock (or vegetable)
A few sprigs of coriander
1.5 tbsp light soy sauce
2 spring onions
1/2 tbsp Chinese black vinegar
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns

Very carefully, cut the tofu in cube and simmer in a pan of water for 2 - 3 minutes. Drain and leave in the fridge to cool. Toast the peppercorns lightly in a pan and grind to a fine powder in a pestle and mortar. In a bowl, combine the vinegar with the soy sauce, sesame oil and stock. Chop the ginger finely. Deseed the chillis and slice thinly, add to the soy mixture. Add the ginger and stir to combine. Slice the spring onions on the diagonal and chop up the coriander. To serve, pile the tofu cubes up carefully and drizzle with the dressing, garnishing with the spring onion and coriander. Sprinkle with the peppercorn powder and serve chilled with a meaty dish and some vegetables.


Sarah, Maison Cupcake said...

I agree with you I don't understand people saying they don't like it, they've probably either never had it or it wasn't served very imaginatively. And the Cauldron brand that is mostly widely available in the supermarkets is the least impressive. Great simple salad!

catty said...

I'm also a big tofu fan and love that tofu dishes are generally quick and easy (and healthy!).. this one looks delish although I go all numb from Szechuan peppers!

The Little Welsh said...

Yum yum yum! i love tofu! its such a healthy and tasty ingredient, the haters are really missing out! this is a great recipe for it :)

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

I'm one of those yet to be convinced... but I'm liking the idea of this recipe, so perhaps I'd better give it another shot...

Melanie Seasons said...

Don't worry - I'm with you too! Tofu can be absolutely delicious!

Recipe looks brilliant :)

Joshua said...

That's like a more elaborate version of a dish I had in Datong which simply had tofu (pressed), green chili, sesame oil and black vinegar.

This looks equally as, if not more, tasty.

shayma said...

i love it. and i love black vinegar, too. the light in the photos looks gorgeous.

Lizzie said...

Sarah - Cauldron is Satan's mattress. Horrible stuff.

Catty - Yes, healthy to boot (I was thinking of adding some pork...). I love it.

The Little Welsh - Thanks. They are missing out - more for us!

A forkful - Decent, fresh tofu is imperative for a recipe like this; do try it.

Melanie - thanks! Glad to see some tofu love.

Josh - Thanks. Pressed tofu sounds interesting; I'll seek it out.

Shayma - Thank god for daylight savings - it was taken at 7pm! I love black vinegar too.

ginandcrumpets said...

When i go out for Chinese/Indian I am now banned by my philistine friends from ordering "little white cubes" (tofu or paneer). They are mean and ultimately demented people. This tofu looks lovely.

Helen said...

I adore tofu and do not understand why it is so misunderstood by people, although I think that people often cook it without pressing it. Unpressed tofu really does not help tofu's cause at all.

I like my own homemade tofu still warm from sliced with a little salt and pepper and olive oil. Utterly delicious.

curlywurlyfi said...

Just wondered why you have to simmer the tofu in the first instance given you just cool it down again - is it a hygiene thing?

Lizzie said...

Gin & Crumpets - I'm not a huge fan of paneer... not sure why as it's so similar. Perhaps another try.

Helen - I don't often press my tofu actually, only when frying. I do use a lot of soft tofu though which would probably just flatten...

Curlywurlyfi - I'm not sure actually; I've always been told to cook tofu first, perhaps to get rid of any raw flavour?

Helen said...

I have been converted, as you know. I also agree that it does have a subtle flavour of its own, but I only came to appreciate it recently. It's one of those things tofu, I think - once you start liking it a little bit you can't stop yourself. I can't, anyway.