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.