Spicy Hunan Tofu Skins
There is a famed restaurant in Shanghai called Di Shui Dong, and it's one of the places where people celebrate birthdays, host special visitors, and where hellos and goodbyes are said in spectacular fashion while the table is filled with dish after extraordinary dish. There is one dish in particular that people rave about but because it's non-veg, I have never had it. As usual, I really didn't think it was fair for everyone else to enjoy crispy flavorful morsels spiced with peppers and cumin, so I set out to make those famous Di Shui Dong ribs the only way I know how; non-animal style.
Hunan food is deliciously spicy, but quite different from the Sichuan spice many people have come to think of as the quintessential Chinese heat. Hunan spice is complex and at times subtle. It might not set your body on fire from it's heat, but it will tingle your tongue while delicately dancing around the other flavors in the mix. Many Chinese food favorites in the West actually hail from Hunan, and for good reason; it's creative and delicious.
Before I share the recipe, I want to tell you a little bit about the amazing tofu product that made it all possible-crispy tofu skin.
One day while I was shopping for fresh ingredients at a local wet market, I saw these beautiful golden brown tofu skins that were rolled up and thought they would make the best rib substitute because of the texture and ability to soak up sauces and flavors in between each little nook and cranny of layer after layer of thin and crispy tofu skin. Tofu skin is made by boiling soy milk until a filmy layer forms at the top and slightly dries. It's then gently removed and let to dry completely. Super simple and amazing. I definitely recommend bringing some home to experiment with!
This recipe calls for the tofu skin rolls to be baked, but they can also be fried in the wok instead. If using that method, add a larger amount of cooking oil to the wok before cooking the ginger, garlic, chilis, and cumin then add in the tofu skins and cook until crispy.
16 pieces rolled crispy tofu skin
4 tbs rice vinegar
1 tbs tahini or Chinese sesame paste (sub peanut butter if tahini or sesame paste is not available)
3 tbs light soy sauce
1/8 tsp five spice
1 tbs corn starch
1 heaping tbs ginger, minced
4 large garlic cloves, minced
3 small fresh red chilis, deseeded for less heat if desired (I did not desire), thinly sliced
1 baby green bell pepper (sub with spicy green pepper if desired), thinly sliced
2 heaping tbs sliced scallions, white parts only reserving the green parts for garnish, thinly sliced
2 tbs whole cumin
1. Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees C.
1. In a medium bowl, mix together rice vinegar, tahini or sesame paste, soy sauce, five spice, and corn starch. Add in rolled tofu skin and mix well, ensuring each piece is slightly coated.
2. Heat a wok over medium high heat and add a bit of cooking oil. When oil is hot add in ginger, garlic, red chilis, green pepper, scallions, and cumin. Cook for 4-5 minutes until fragrant and browned. Reduce heat as necessary while cooking to avoid burning.
3. Remove cooked spice mixture from heat and add to the bowl of rolled tofu skin. Mix well, coating each piece.
4. Line a large baking pan with baking paper. If using skewers, add 4 pieces of the rolled tofu skin to each skewer and lay on the baking pan. If you are not using skewers, skip this step and simply add the tofu skin rolls to the pan for baking. Once finished placing the rolled tofu skins on the pan, sprinkle with remaining spice mixture leftover in the bowl.
5. Place on the top rack and bake for 10 minutes, and then take out of the oven and gently flip over. Bake for an additional 5-8 minutes. You want the skins to be nice and crispy.
6. Once crispy and golden brown, remove rolled tofu skins from the oven and plate, top with green parts of the sliced scallions and if desired, additional fresh red chili slices. Serve immediately.