Thursday, April 11, 2013

Not for the Faint of Heart: Black Pepper Tofu

Lately, I've really been digging spicy foods.  Every time I make salsa, I make it a little bit spicier.  With each new dish, I add more and more red pepper flakes.  But this dish......this tops everything.  This is the hottest thing I've ever eaten.

I got this recipe from Plenty, a great vegetarian cookbook.  To be fair the author, Yotam Ottolenghi, did warn that it was hot.  But he did not tell me that tears would be running down my face, my mouth, eyes, and nose would be on fire, and that the heat from the cooking chile peppers would make me cough uncontrollably.  

I'm actually not kidding.  This is SO HOT!  However, as weird as it may sound, it's really delicious.  But this is not for people who don't love spice.  This dish is a test of your endurance.  Your nose will be running.  You will be crying.  You will be sweating.  But you will be stuffing your face all the same.  

Now, if you don't have a death wish, you could cut the peppers to make it a little less spicy.  The second time I made this I used 6 peppers instead of 8, but that didn't make much of a difference.  To get a tamer version, I would cut the recipe to 2 red chile peppers and 2 tablespoons of black pepper.  Instead of 5.  This recipe calls for 5 tablespoons of black pepper.  Have you ever seen 5 tablespoons of black pepper? It's a whole lot more than you think it is.

This dish introduced me to red chiles.  I bought a huge bag for $3.99 at my local Vietnamese grocery and I've been throwing 1 or 2 in every dish I've made since.  They are hot, but very flavorful.  I'm hooked.  Perfect addition to mac and cheese, weirdly enough.   

As I said, this is a recipe from Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi, but I've made a few alterations.  His recipe called for a ton of butter, but I didn't really think that was necessary (weird for me to say, butter is normally very necessary).  You will probably need to head to your local Asian grocery to pick up the sauces, because you won't find them at your normal grocery store.  They will also be way cheaper there.  I'm happy to say that because of this cookbook, I now own 4 different types of soy sauce.  I didn't even know there were 4 different types of soy sauce.  There are actually about a billion.

Black Pepper Tofu

1 3/4 lbs firm tofu
vegetable oil for frying
cornstarch to dust the tofu
3 tbsp butter
8 tbsp peanut oil
12 small shallots
8 fresh red chiles
12 garlic cloves
3 tbsp fresh ginger
3 tbsp sweet soy sauce
3 tbsp light soy sauce
4 tsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp sugar
5 tbsp black pepper
green onions for garnish

First you need to chop up your shallots, chiles, garlic, and ginger.  The first time I made this recipe I took the time to chop it all.  The second time I wised up and threw it all in the food processor.  Do that.
Chop your tofu into 1" x 1" squares.  Dust all sides with cornstarch.  Fill a saute pan (or a wok if you have one) with vegetable oil until it's about 1/4 inch deep.  Heat oil on medium/high heat.  Drop one of your tofu squares in the hot oil.  If it sizzles, add all of the squares.  Fry each side of the tofu until golden brown.  Place tofu on a plate and use a paper towel to soak up excess oil.  Remove oil and any burnt pieces from pan or wok.
Place butter and peanut oil in pan and turn the eye on medium heat.  Add vegetables and saute for about 15 minutes.  
Add all of the soy sauces and sugar.  Stir to combine.  Then add black pepper.  
Add the tofu back into the pan and coat with the spicy sauce.  Serve over rice, noodles, cabbage, etc., and garnish with green onions.  
Get ready for some heat!  Like I said, you could definitely cut the spiciness of this dish.  But if you are one of those people who orders the spiciest wings at Buffalo Wild Wings, or who is constantly buying new hot sauces (my friend Russ does this, it's kind of hilarious) this is the dish for  you.    


  1. The SPICIEST wings at Buffalo Wild Wings are a painful experience. Nobody orders those things and enjoys them.

  2. Ooh, sounds yummy, especially with the cabbage.

    Yummy, but terrifying.