Thursday, April 24, 2008
Tofu to the Rescue
There are several ingredients that I can count on when I've forgotten to prepare or defrost something for dinner (which is more often than you might think). One of the best proteins I can always count on in such a dire situation is tofu. Tofu can last in your fridge for up to a few months if unopened, and also freezes and defrosts exceptionally well (but must first be drained). I always keep at least one block of silken tofu in my fridge for "dinner emergencies" like this one. It's incredibly versatile and can adjust to suit whatever you're in the mood for. A scramble? Try using silken tofu instead of eggs. Want something meatier? Try marinating it in barbecue and then grilling it. Or, if you're like me and craving something deep fried and crunchy, you don't even need to bust out the breadcrumbs--just dip it in some flour and fry away.
I often make deep fried tofu because it really is an easy, comforting dish that's super easy to change up. All you have to do is play with the seasoning that you add to the flour in order to have a different dish. I often make chili-lime spiced tofu and serve it with a cilantro raita to dip in. This time I was in the mood for the fragrant and spicy flavors of sichuan peppercorn. This kind of pepper is really tasty because it has a complex and balanced flavor that's both smoky, piquant and sweet all at once. Simply dry roast the peppercorns with some salt until fragrant and the peppercorns make a popping noise. Then grind the mixture in a mortar and pestle (or a spice grinder, but I like to hear them pop, and I like the texture better when done by hand). I mixed the spice mixture into the flour and then dredged the tofu pieces in it--no egg or other "food glue" needed to help the crust adhere, thanks to the tofu's natural moisture.
Once it's fried, the tofu gets a nice delicate, spicy and crispy crust on the outside. Since I used silken tofu, the inside was soft and nearly molten, almost like a mozzarella stick. I like to serve mine with a dipping sauce on the side, and this time I went with a soy sauce based one to keep the Asian flavors going. Here's how I made mine, but definitely experiment with the kinds of flavors you like for the crust:
Sichuan Deep Fried Silken Tofu
1 package silken tofu
3 heaping Tbsp flour
2 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
6 tsp coarse salt
light oil (vegetable, canola, or peanut for frying)
1. Dry roast Sichuan peppercorns in a pan with 5 tsp of salt until fragrant and peppercorns start to pop. Grind mixture in a mortar and pestle and combine with flour in a large bowl.
2. Cut tofu into 1 x 2 inch pieces and lightly salt. Coat each piece in the flour mixture and set aside.
3. Fry tofu in oil (enough to cover tofu by an inch) in batches on medium high until brown and crisp on both sides. Enjoy!
**For the dipping sauce, combine 2 Tbsp soy sauce, 3 Tbsp malt vingegar, 1 tsp kecap manis, 1 tsp chopped cilantro and 1/2 a finely chopped spring onion.