I often get in quite late of an evening, and so walk a skinny little tightrope between wanting to eat as soon as possible, but also wanting to eat something tasty. My default speedy meal is mushrooms on toast with an egg on top, and then there's good old stir fry prawns, but both dishes have exhausted their charms at this stage. I'm always on the lookout for something I can cook up in a jiffy, something that packs a flavoursome punch and doesn't leave me feeling as though I'm doomed to evenings full of bland dinners as an unfair punishment for my annoying schedule. So the description of this black pepper tofu dish in the Ottolenghi cookbook Plenty as something that is comparable to a dish from a top Chinese restaurant reeled me in immediately. There is a fair whack of oil and butter going on here, but I think that this is balanced out somewhat by the lack of meat. The black pepper, in such a quantity, was a revelation; I was quite dubious as to its potential as a spice, but it hit it off with the red chillies to add quite a distinctive fiery flavour. And yes, I would most certainly be very happy to part with cash for this at a good Chinese restaurant, but I am delighted to not have to.
Cube up the tofu and toss it in some cornflour so that it will form a crispy golden coat after a spell in some oil on the pan.
Love how the tofu crunchy-s up in the pan and forms that lovely golden brown crust. When the little cubes are done all over you can counteract all of that oiliness somewhat by popping it all on to some kitchen paper to soak some up while you get on with the rest of it.
A chopping of red chillies, garlic, fresh ginger and garlic starts off the really flavoursome part of the operation. The recipe, which says that it serves four (such is my appetite that I find quantities quoted for four only really would only do two portions for me), uses 12 shallots (sliced), 8 red chillies (sliced), 12 garlic cloves (crushed), and 3tbsp chopped fresh ginger. Such dishes are really a matter of taste, I find, so I suggest adjusting and adapting according to personal preferences.
Listen, I never said that this was going to be healthy. And also, bear in mind that a similar offering from a take-away would be drenched in unhealthiness. So, this may be an oiled-up offering, but at least you know exactly what you're eating. Yes, correct, this is also what I tell myself when I tuck into homemade cakes, biscuits and other sweet treats. The chopped bits go on to a good dollop of butter on the pan (recipe says 150g) and soften up on a low heat for about 15 minutes.
The coffee grinder that the lovely and wonderful Niamh Ní Bhroin got me for my birthday moonlights as a spice grinder. It's a marvelous addition to my kitchen countertop, I just love it. It makes coffee-buying far more exciting - love buying beans - and I love the ritual of giving the beans a buzz before adding them to the cafetiére, love the ever-slick, classic Bodum design, love the fact that it has distracted me from buying a pestle and mortar as it is quite happy to multi-task and grind up spicy bits as necessary. Love it. So, next you need to up the ante on the spiciness with some black peppercorns - recipe says five tablespoons.
This is what will really get your tongue hopping. Try not to balk at the volume of peppercorns or shy away from including such an amount of them - they are really what gives this dish an edge.
When that little lot on the pan has softened up nicely, add some sweet soy sauce (3 tbsp), light soy sauce (3 tbsp), and dark soy sauce (4 tsp), as well as 2 tbsp caster sugar. Give it a good stir and then add the ground up peppercorns, finishing it all up with some sliced spring onions.
Another one of those dishes that should tempt take-away addicts away from the menu and into the kitchen.