i remember first time i ate tofu with spicy salt, in a little dumpling house close to my old office in toronto, maybe 4 years ago. the dish was so simple, just cubes of tofu dusted in some crazy spice blend, deep fried, then cooked again with peppers and onions. the very nice people who ran the restaurant always threw a little container of dark soy and vinegar blend, and some chili paste in my take out bag and i’d douse the whole lot with it before consuming like a madwoman. the slick of oil at the bottom of the styrofoam take-away box this was a good indication i should not be eating this once a week, but heavens to betsy, it was a thing of deliciousness!
on the days i decided to pop in for some, i thought about it all day. seriously, i could barely work. my meat-eating friends could not imagine how something made of soybean curd could have me in such a tizzy, until they tried it. right? that look on their face said it all. vindication! they are all vegetarians now! (no they’re not.)
when i moved jobs, i left the dumpling house behind. but like poe’s beating telltale heart, it haunted me regularly. i knew if i didn’t have some, and soon, i was going to snap like a desiccated twig.
i also knew if i managed to nail this recipe, i would want to eat it all the time, so it needed to be healthier. not even i will sacrifice my favourite jeans for a bowl of tofu.
so here we are, and this version is lightly pan-fried vs. deep-fried. the bonus? it cooks up in like, 15 minutes, and makes a great lunch, or pair with brown rice and a big bowl of stir-fried vegetables and cashews for a larger meal.
for the spice factor, i’ve used shichimi, which you can buy at most asian stores. you can also check back here on sunday for a feature on spice blends and how to make your own shichimi.
tofu with spicy salt
1 250g brick of firm tofu
1 egg white muddled with 1 tbsp water
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp shichimi
1 tsp. black sesame seeds
1 tsp. white sesame seeds
2 tbsp peanut or canola oil
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp tamari
2 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp sambal oelek or other chili paste
slice the brick of tofu in half horizontally. place the cut sides down on a double thickness of paper towel and allow to drain for 10 minutes. cut each half into 1″ cubes. in a small bowl, stir together the tamari, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and sambal oelek. set aside.
in a lidded container or a plastic bag, mix up the cornstarch, shichimi, salt, pepper, and sesame seeds. in a medium bowl toss the tofu cubes with the egg white mixture, then use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the cornstarch mixture. shake to coat. in a large-ish ceramic non-stick pan, heat the 2 tbsp. oil until almost smoking. shake the excess cornstarch from the tofu and add to the pan. shake and stir the pan to lightly brown the tofu cubes on all sides, about 5 minutes. add the peppers and onions, reduce heat to medium, and cook until the onions are wilted and the pepper is slightly softened but still a bit crisp, about 4 minutes. add the tamari mixture, and give the pan a few shakes to coat the tofu. serve immediately.