By now regular (and cherished) readers will have got the message that I am a) animal-mad, b) a bit of a nutrition geek, c) have a thing for tofu. I am also rather fond of big flavours – clashing, bold, in-your-face tastes and aromas. Maybe it’s because my eyesight is a bit poor, and my hearing isn’t too far behind, but I can’t be doing with too many bland or one-note foods.
Although I do graze from the fruit bowl and pick through the nut jar, I truly have a hard time sitting down and eating, say, a banana – I want it sliced and sprinkled with cardamom. I must be a latent sensationalist, and instead of kite-surfing or gambling I find my thrills with food. But not in a quantitative, all-you-can-eat kind of way (well, not usually); for me it’s about the sensuous meeting of taste, smell, texture, sight and even touch. Think of how much nicer it is to eat corn from a cob, dripping with real butter, than to chase the kernels around your plate with a fork. Or appreciating the pop and sizzle of a stir-fry – the hot smell of ginger and garlic taking over your kitchen, your house. Many a fully-booked Malaysian and Korean restaurant says that I am not alone in my love of big flavours. I suspect that you have such leanings too. I do eat unadorned, as-nature-intended food – a perfectly ripe peach is heaven sent – but normally I’d rather add a texture or a spice to liven things up or create a different dimension. My poor family are constantly hit with a barrage of spices and herbs, competing textures and unexpected wafts from sneakily lifted lids. I’m sure that on the blue-moon occasion that I am away for the night, they gleefully tuck into baked beans on toast or a bowl of contraband Angel Delight (butterscotch flavour), but they are very tolerant of my love affair with food in all of its crazy combinations. Luckily they are usually with me all the way so my inventions and tweaks get a proper, critical airing.
Today’s recipe got a very warm reception when it debuted in our house last year. And it’s not just because of the pulse of fragrant heat in every bite. I have previously spoken of my admiration for the London chef Yotam Ottolenghi. His ‘med-east’ recipes and combinations are right up my street/pantry, and I take inspiration from his daring and up-front flavour combinations. Whenever I am afforded the luxury of a cookbook-testing Saturday, this is the book I most often reach for. I can spend hours caught up in customising and playing around with his recipes.
This one is a case in point. I was fairly blown away by the Black Pepper Tofu recipe from Ottolenghi’s acclaimed book Plenty. But, it would probably be too punchy for many tastes – 8 chillies, 12 garlic cloves and 5 tbsp of pepper, and much too high in fat and salt to be healthy – however delicious. So, in this homage, I’ve toned down these elements while at the same time ramping up the fibre and vegetable content with glistening aubergines and earthy shiitakes. Although, like a lot of Asian-style recipes preparation is key, this recipe is super easy to make, and tastes sublime with turmeric-scented baked basmati rice and a side of steamed Savoy cabbage. I find the salty, sweet, tart and hot buttons are well and truly pushed with this recipe. See what you think. Incidentally the sharp-eyed among you will have noticed that the photos don’t include the aubergines and mushrooms. This is because they were taken pre-vegetable dabbling, and because I accidentally got the light just right (I have no idea what I am doing most of the time) I didn’t reshoot my veg-stuffed version. And I didn’t realise they were absent until I started writing this today. Oops. The aubergine and shiitake are gorgeous in it, so don’t be tempted to leave them out.
If you want to know some nutrition facts on tofu/soybean curd, have a look at my recipe for Tofu and Aubergine Lime-Basil Curry (where I promise the recipe you are getting today) and at The World’s Healthiest Foods website. Breastcancer.org gives an objective overview of soy for breast cancer survivors. And, to make perfectly cooked rice, have a gander at this recipe for Turmeric and Lime Salmon with Baked Lime-scented Rice. For both recipes you need – as always – to wade past my chat, but the rice tip is especially worth noting.
I’m constantly on the lookout for great tasting tofu recipes and here I have adapted a Yotam Ottelenghi recipe that stars this much-maligned ingredient. It is super easy to prepare, healthy and tastes sublime with turmeric scented basmati rice and steamed Savoy cabbage. Nerdy fact: turmeric and black pepper are potent phytochemical partners.