Tofu Stuffed Peppers with Spicy Black Bean Sauce
The world is a fascinating place, and I love how much we can learn about a culture from its cuisine.
In the not so distant past, China was a vastly different place from what we see today, and it's the rich culinary history blended with a fight for survival that has brought us to what we know and love about Chinese food today.
In China, there are few cuisines that display more of these deep rooted characteristics than Hakka cuisine. Although the Hakka people are Han Chinese, they posses a unique culture, and with it comes a cuisine that is far from ordinary. Originating from the north and making their way south throughout the centuries, the Hakka people endured numerous hardships that eventually brought many of them to live in unforgiving environments where life was hard and food was scarce.
The Hakka people got creative with their surroundings, and made do with what they had. They pickled and fermented, used every possible morsel of food in every way imaginable, and got creative with their cuisine. As wheat wasn't available where they settled, the Hakka stuffed vegetables and tofu instead of steamed buns. These delectable bites eventually became favorite dim sum dishes and can still be found in Cantonese food stalls and restaurants today.
This dish is perfect if you are looking to impress guests, and the best part is that it's a lot easier than it looks!
You might want to double the sauce recipe to pour on everything for the rest of the week. It's so good, I had to remind my husband that it wasn't soup.
For the Peppers-
4 small green bell peppers, each cut into 4-5 segments, with the cuts being made along the "seams" of the peppers
400g firm tofu, pressed to remove excess water
4 fresh shiitake mushrooms or 4 dried Chinese mushrooms rehydrated in hot water, finely chopped
1 bunch of scallions, thinly sliced, white and green parts separated
1 flax egg (1 tbs ground flax mixed with 3 tbs water at let to set for 8-10 minutes)
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbs soy sauce
1/4 C chickpea flour
2 tbs corn starch plus more for dusting
Optional-for a "fishy" flavor you can add 1-2 tbs ground nori
Oil for cooking
For the Sauce-
Green parts of sliced scallions, with a bit set aside for garnish
1 clove garlic, minced
1 C water
2 tbs black bean chili sauce
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs corn starch mixed with 1 tbs water
1. Add pressed tofu to a medium bowl and mash with a fork, then add minced mushrooms, white and light green part of scallions (approximately 1/4 C), flax egg, sugar, sesame oil, soy sauce, chickpea flour, corn starch, and if you're using it, ground nori. Mix until well combined. The mixture should be a little on the dry looking side. If it's too wet it will fall out of the pepper and stick to the wok while cooking.
2. Dust inside of bell pepper segments with corn starch to help the mixture stick and spoon the mixture inside, smoothing it out at the top. Don't overfill the pepper segment or it will get messy while cooking.
3. In a wok, heat a bit of oil (less than a tbs) over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, place 4-5 pepper pieces, tofu mixture side down, into the wok. Cook for about 3 minutes, until the mixture is nice and brown. Reduce heat if necessary so it doesn't burn.
4. Turn the peppers over so the mixture is now on top. Add about 2 tbs of water to the wok and cover. This will steam the peppers as well as cook the bottom of them, so they will have a great texture and flavor.
5. Repeat the process with the remaining pepper segments.
6. Clean out the wok and heat a bit of oil over medium heat. Add the scallions and garlic and cook until fragrant, stirring frequently.
7. Add water, black bean chili sauce, soy sauce and corn starch mixture, increase heat to medium-high. Stir frequently until mixture becomes a bit thick, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat.
8. Assemble peppers on plate and top with sauce. Garnish with remaining sliced scallions.