Black Pepper Tofu

For those of you who are unaccustomed to eating tofu, I really urge you to give it try. Some people simply right it off as being rather bland tasting, but the fact is tofu has a fabulous melt in the mouth texture and absorbs some of the other flavours that you cook it with. Its a great vegetarian option to meat and is hugely versatile. This is my third recipe using tofu on my blog – the other two, Ma Po Tofu and Soba Noodles with Tofu I incorporate fairly regularly in our diet. This recipe is also heavenly and reminds me in fact of one of my favourite dishes of all time – black peppercorn crab – that I ate in Singapore last year at Red House  on Robertson Quay. This recipe is sourced from the Yotam Ottolenghi’s  book ‘Plenty,’ which focuses exclusively on vegetarian recipes.

The recipe itself is fairly straight forward, however, as there is a fair amount of chopping, slicing, crushing it does take a little bit of time on the preparation part. The finished dish though is totally worth the effort you put in to the preparation. I have made a number of alterations to the original as I found that when I followed his quantities exactly the pepper was too overpowering and I did not need quite as many chillies or spring onions. So it is a little toned down but see how you get on and if you prefer it with more pepper just add an extra 2 tablespoons to the 3 that I suggest below and throw in a few extra chillies.

Black Pepper Tofu

A Yotam Ottolenghi recipe adapted from his book Plenty (p44-45)

Serves 4

700g firm tofu

vegetable oil

cornflour to dust the tofu

100g butter

10 small shallots, thinly sliced

4 fresh red chillies (fairly mild ones), thinly sliced (seeds removed)

10 garlic cloves, finely grated/chopped

3 tbsp fresh root ginger, finely grated

3 tbsp sweet soy sauce (kecap manis)

3 tbsp light soy sauce

4 tsp dark soy sauce

2 tbsp caster sugar

3 tbsp coarsely crushed black peppercorns

5 small and thin spring onions, cut into 3cm segments

1. Carefully remove the tofu from its pack and cut it into large cubes, around 3 x 2cm, being careful not to break it.

2. Sieve a little cornflower over the tofu so that it delicately coats the cubes.

3. Heat  a little oil in a deep frying pan and add the tofu in small batches so that the tofu is evenly golden. Place on kitchen roll whilst you prepare the next batch.

4. Clean the pan thoroughly before adding the butter. Once it is melted add the shallots, chillies, garlic and ginger and saute on a low heat for 15 minutes so that the ingredients have softened and darkened slightly. Stir occasionally.

5. Add the soy sauces, sugar and crushed peppercorns and mix into the other ingredients.

6. Place the tofu in the pan and coat in the sauce, being careful not to break up the tofu cubes. After a minute or so add the spring onions and stir into the ingredients.

7. Serve immediately with steamed or boiled rice.

Do you have any wonderful tofu recipes that you would like to share with me? Leave a message below and let me know.


Mountain Air and Chinese Marbled Tea Eggs

Mr B and I have just returned from one of those magical long weekends when you literally have to pinch yourself that what you are experiencing and seeing is actually real. We were attending a friend’s wedding in South Tyrol in Northern Italy, but due to logistics we decided to fly into Munich, a city we hold dear and one that we visited last December. Driving through Germany, Austria and into northern Italy may sound like a bit of an epic journey but the truth of the matter is that it only takes 3.5 hours and we thought a scenic drive through the  Brenner pass would be rather pleasant.

Our destination was the stunning eco spa hotel, Vigilius mountain resort, which was lovingly designed by architect Matteo Thun. The hotel blends into the natural environment seemlessly due to the use of materials from renewable resources. All the water used in hotel – from the pool, shower, baths and drinking comes from the Vigiljoch spring water.  To reach the hotel you need to take a cable car for about 15 minutes and upon arrival you really do feel a world away from the stresses and interruptions of day to day living. There is no Wifi or TV in the hotel, which allows you to really switch off and enjoy the natural environment that you find yourself in.

The wedding itself allowed us to explore the mountain side, not least because we had to take a single chairlift a further 15 minutes higher up the mountain and then a 15 minute walk to the church. It was one of those experiences that we will remember and cherish forever, not least because of the surreal nature of taking a chairlift dressed in wedding attire.

The smell of the pine forests and the wood burning in the chimneys conjured up happy memories of times in the mountains when the snow was thick and heavy. It was refreshing though seeing the mountains covered with grass and wild flowers and the cows with bells around their necks.

During the church service itself, the cow bells could be heard just outside the church entrance, to the extent we would not have been surprised had they ambled in to take a look at what was going on.

On Sunday, after all the wedding festivities were drawing to a close, Mr B and I returned to the top of the mountain and had a good amble around the wooded paths that are carved into the mountain. We came across characterful chocolate box houses similar to the ones that we all draw as children. I loved the green shutters and the window boxes filled with bright red flowers matching perfectly with the red gingham curtains.

We returned, one last time, to the church where we had spent some precious moments the previous day.

It was hard to drag ourselves away from such a picturesque spot, with beautiful blue skies and wonderful green mountains.

Returning to London I was convinced that the good weather must surely have arrived to our shores – I was clearly delusional after all that mountain sun and fresh air – as the rain persists and people’s moods continue to fray.

As activities with Big A and Little Z are housebound with the continuous downfall, we decided to make some Chinese marbled tea eggs. In China, the eggs are a common snack that are adored by school children and adults alike. The marbled effect, that is created through gently cracking of the hard boiled eggs, is attractive and unique, in that no two eggs will look the same. The girls love to see the different effects that are created each time we finally break open the shells.

I have loved hard boiled eggs for as long as I can remember, to the extent that no picnic is complete without them. As well as being aesthetically pleasing, Chinese marbled tea eggs also taste really delicious with the subtle flavours of tea, soy and aniseed gently resonating from the egg. So why not try making these next time you plan on having a picnic when the sun shines or, for that matter, when it rains and you decide to have it inside instead.

Chinese Marbled Tea Eggs

Sourced from Balance and Harmony Asian Food by Neil Perry – p193

6 free range or organic eggs

3 tbs Jasmine tea leaves (or black tea leaves)

2 cinnamon bark sticks

3 star anise

half tsp sea salt

100 ml dark soy sauce

1. Place the eggs in a pan of cold water so that they are completely covered and gently bring the water to the boil. Simmer gently for 6 minutes.

2. Gently transfer the eggs to a bowl full of ice and then cover with cold water. Place the pan of boiled water to one side as you will use this later.

3. Once they are cooled tap the eggs gently so that the shell cracks but does not break off. You want to have the effect of lots of small cracks.

4. Place the eggs in the pan of boiled water and add the tea, cinnamon bark, star anise, salt and soy sauce.

5. Simmer for a further hour and then remove from the heat and leave to cool completely. The longer you leave them the more flavour is drawn into the eggs and the more marbled the eggs become. Those above were left in the fridge overnight.

6. To serve remove the eggs from the stock and carefully remove the shell to reveal the unique marbled effect.