Updated: Jan 5, 2019
I have yet to meet a foreigner who does not love this dish so. It's mouth numbing and flavorful, and one of my favorite things about is that it's made with tofu and easily made vegan.
Although this dish is loved by many, its main ingredient is sadly not. When those unfamiliar with tofu hear its name, they may unwittingly wince their eyes and draw down the corners of their mouths down in disgust. Poor, misunderstood tofu. How can it even have a chance at mainstream success when one of its most beloved dishes translates from Chinese to "pockmarked grandma's beancurd"?
I don't blame you. I too used to look at the globulous white stuff and think, 'What the fricken frack is that stuff?' And don't even get me started about my first failed attempts at cooking with it. However, over the years my appreciation for tofu has grown so much so, that I could not imagine my plant-based lovin' life without it.
So, what the frick is tofu anyway? It's a power house of nutrients for one. Tofu is low in calories and high in protein and iron, and depending on how it's made can also be a good source of magnesium and calcium. This is why if you have vegan or vegetarian friends, their eyes light up anytime tofu is mentioned. It's one of our favorite things.
The process of making tofu is a bit similar to making cheese in that it involves coagulation of soy milk, much like one would coagulate dairy milk to make cheese. The coagulated mixture is then pressed for varying amounts of time to create all sorts of variations, from silken to super firm. Silken tofu is super delicate and can be used in many soups, sauces, and dressings. Super firm is my go to for a hearty and substantial protein that can easily replace chicken in any recipe.
For this recipe I used super firm tofu because I like the texture and the fact I don't have to spend any time draining it, but many restaurants will use firm or even silken. What can I say, I like my tofu like I like my man's muscles, extra firm.
It's recipe time, but I've gotta warn you, this is some spicy stuff. The Sichuan peppercorn is what gives this dish its unforgettable signature flavor. It's unlike any other spice I've tasted, but not for those who don't do spicy. It hurts so good, and that's why we love it and will always want more.
800g super firm tofu, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (can use less firm tofu if you prefer)
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1/4 C vegetable broth or water
2 tbs black bean chili paste
2 tbs soy sauce
1 heaping tbs garlic, minced
1 heaping tbs fresh, peeled ginger, finely minced
2 tbs scallions, finely sliced
1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
1 1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp chili oil
1/2 tsp ground Sichuan peppercorns
1/2 tsp whole Sichuan peppercorns (more or less depending on your spice handling ability)
Additional peppercorns and sliced scallions for topping
1. Stir together broth, bean paste, and soy sauce. Set aside.
2. Heat a wok or large heavy skillet over high heat until hot and add cooking oil, swirling to coat. Add tofu and stir-fry for about 2 minutes until slightly browned, lower heat to medium.
3. Add garlic and ginger and stir-fry until very fragrant, about 2 minutes.
4. Add sauce to wok, and bring to a simmer, stirring tofu gently so it doesn't disintegrate too much.
5. Gently stir in cornstarch mixture and bring to a boil, and once the sauce has thickened, remove from heat.
6. Add sesame oil, chili oil, ground Sichuan peppercorns, whole Sichuan peppercorns, and scallions. Stir once or twice, then serve sprinkled with additional scallions and if desired more peppercorns.