This recipe caught my eye based on the chili peppers. It is definitely something you might find in an asian restaurant with a picture of a pepper next to the name indicating spicy, but when making it at home you can fiddle around with the amount of peppers added if you are sensitive to hot n’ spicy. This is another Epicurious recipe courtesy of Tobi, who became my cooking buddy for the night and chopped everything you see in the two bowls below. Much easier to craft up three recipes in the night with a helper who knows a thing or two about food!
For this recipe you will want to add to your shopping cart:
1 3/4 lbs firm tofu
Vegetable oil for frying
Cornstarch to dust the tofu
11 tbsp butter
12 small shallots (12 ounces in total), thinly sliced
8 fresh red chiles (fairly mild ones), thinly sliced
12 garlic cloves, crushed
3 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
3 tbsp sweet soy sauce (kecap manis)
3 tbsp light soy sauce
4 tsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp sugar
5 tbsp coarsely crushed black peppercorns (use a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder)
16 small and thin green onions, cut into 1 1/4-inch segments
Start by chopping the shallots, chiles (which I didn’t find fresh, so purchased dried and had to add a little cayenne and red pepper flakes. It will be much better fresh), garlic (or use your handy-dandy garlic press), and ginger and throw them all together into a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, place the thinly sliced green onions and set aside for the end. When this is finished, cut approximately two tofu blocks (1 3/4 Lbs) into 1-inch cubes or desired shape for frying. If following the recipe to a T, you should lightly dust the tofu in cornstarch, but I would recommend flour or even bread crumbs for a better texture and sticking capacity.
The cubes are then thrown into a frying pan about 1/4 inch up the sides of the pan with vegetable oil. In batches start gently placing the cubes into the preheated oil. The cubes will stick out above the oil, and should be turned a few times so they evenly golden brown and have a slight crust removing them with a slotted spoon and placing them onto awaiting paper towels. With the cornstarch, I found it unable to properly stick to the soy cubes leaving clumps. When I removed fried tofu, it was still squishy and white. The browned parts stuck to the bottom of the pan and the clumps of cornstarch turned into a clear gel-like consistency resembling something that would come out of a jelly fish. Once the strange jelly was removed, the tofu tasted fine, it just wasn’t quite fried to my liking of a firm, browned, crispy, solid state. So again, next time I will try another route like flour or bread crumbs.
While the tofu is cooking whisk together the different soy sauces and sugar in a small bowl. If you are using a mortar and pestle to crush the peppercorns, now is also the time to do that. I used a simple black pepper grinder, but the fresh black pepper creates a much stronger spice than the previously ground pepper shakers we all put on the table next to the salt and is an absolute must. Set this aside for later.
When all your batches of tofu are removed, clean your pan or use another so you don’t continue to burn the residue left behind from the tofu. Add the stick and a half of butter and melt completely. When melted throw in the mixing bowl full of vegetables (minus the actual bowl of course). Saute on low for about 15 minutes or until the vegetables are completely softened and on the shiny side. Dont’ forget to stir intermittently or your veggies will stick to the pan and burn.
Next, mix in the whisked together beforehand sugar and soy as well as sprinkling on the ground black pepper to your cooked shallots, garlic, ginger, and chiles. Add the tofu back into the mix and heat until it is warm. Finally, toss in the green onions and serve over white rice. With the green onions thrown in just at the end and not cooking much, the dish has an extra crunch to the soft texture of the rest of the ingredients. These can also be cooked in at the end for a soft, malleable bite.
The spice in this dish definitely sneaks up on you. Your first bite will immediately taste the melding of garlic (as there are 12 cloves making a fire-breathing, garlic-sweating dragon out of you), ginger, and the sweetness of the shallots followed shortly by the fire-breathing part. The chiles and cayenne have that acquired heat to them causing a slight sweat above your bro, but creating an intense flavor combo in your mouth. The tofu, even at the still squishy state, takes on the gusto of the meal balancing it with extra protein. The rice will help balance everything out with its plain, carb-ready, sticky nature. Absolutely a do-over, delicious dish.