One of the joys of cooking is making things for the people you love. This often involves trying to replicate a restaurant recipe and more often than not, it doesn't work out as well as the restaurant makes it. It usually takes some trial and error and I have to admit that sometimes I just give up. But tonight, I did it just right!
My sons adore Salt and Pepper Tofu - actually they like salt and pepper anything - pork chops, fish, shrimp.... One of our local Chinese restaurants makes this dish very well and it's something we order a lot. So, I got inspired to try doing it myself because I had a carton of tofu about ready to expire. And having just returned from traveling, I was craving tofu. Guess that's because of my Chinese genes. My biggest dilemma was to decide what to coat the tofu in to get that crispy exterior. I knew that the tofu pieces had to be dusted with either cornstarch or rice flour. I only had cornstarch so that answered that question. I also didn't want it to be too greasy so I was determined not to deep fry it, only pan fry it with a minimum amount of oil. I also knew that the tofu needed a lot of flavor so I increased the amount of garlic, ginger and green onions. These are the trinity in Chinese cooking and can make almost anything taste good! I often use these three ingredients with tofu that I stir fry with soy sauce and sesame oil - it's really good on rice. Salt and Pepper dishes classically have slices of hot chiles added in also, but I had only a shriveled Serrano and I wasn't actually in the mood for hot food so I left it out. I think it would actually be prettier with some of those beautiful red Thai Bird chiles if you want it spicy.
I cut up the tofu into 1 inch squares and sprinkled them with salt and pepper. Then I rolled them in cornstarch and pan fried them one side at a time until just barely crispy. I took the tofu out before I sauteed the garlic, ginger and green onions until soft and then I added the tofu back in and waited until they got a bit browner. Then I sprinkled the dish with a little more salt and pepper. It was so good! The tofu was crunchy and the green onions, garlic and ginger were wonderfully savory. The interior of the tofu squares was soft and pillowy which was a great contrast. Even if you don't think you like tofu, you may be surprised by how much like this dish if you are brave enough to make it. If you already like tofu - you have to try it!
Salt and Pepper Tofu
1 14 oz carton Firm Tofu, drained
1/2 cup cornstarch
4 - 5 Tablespoons vegetable oil (I used High Heat Safflower)
4 - 5 green onions, washed and trimmed
1 large garlic clove
1 Serrano Chili or several Thai Bird Chiles (optional)
1/2 inch slice of ginger, peeled
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
Cut tofu cubes into 1 inch squares and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper on one side, turn over and season other side as well. Be sure to reserve some salt and pepper for the plating. Let the tofu sit for 10 minutes while you get other ingredients ready. Slice green onions and chiles into 1/8 inch rings and mince ginger and garlic. In a large frying pan, heat the oil until it is smoking. Place cornstarch in a bowl and roll each piece of tofu in cornstarch until coated on all sides. Add the tofu carefully to the hot oil. Using tongs, turn each piece over when lightly browned. Then turn on sides until browned all over - about 5 - 7 minutes. Remove to a plate and press lightly with a paper towel to remove excess oil. Add extra tablespoon of oil if needed. Put garlic, ginger and green onions in the pan and stir until the green onions are soft and the garlic is just beginning to brown. Add tofu back in and stir until tofu gets darker brown. Be careful not to burn the green onions. Sprinkle with remaining salt and pepper and serve immediately or it can be placed in a warm oven while other dishes are being prepared.
Five Element Analysis
This dish is very Metallic and therefore very useful when you need to add the Metal Element to a larger Asian meal. However, it is not balanced by itself! The tofu is from the Metal Element as are the garlic and green onions. The salt brings in a small amount of the Water Element, the Pepper a bit of the Fire Element and the chiles do too (if you use them). The ginger adds a smidgen of the Earth Element, but this dish obviously needs some help to round out the elements. I served it with stir fried broccoli and red pepper to bring in the Wood and Fire Elements and some cucumber salad that added the Earth Element. I dressed it with sesame oil and sesame seeds from the Water Element to bring some balance to the dinner.