5.12.2018

When Too Much Really IS Too Much

I made it clear years ago, when I first bought Plenty by Ottolenghi, that I really liked his cooking style, and use of flavors. But there are times when I think he overdoes things.

Like the saffron pasta with spiced butter. No one - really no one – should have that much butter per serving (1/2 cup!!). I made it the way it was printed first, and we all suffered from “toxic butter shock” that evening.

The next time I made it, I reduced the butter by more than three-quarters and it was just about right. I also didn’t waste my hard-earned saffron in the homemade pasta the second time, either; all the earthy flavor and beautiful color of the saffron cooked out into the pasta water and vanished. The next time, I added the saffron to the spiced butter. Brilliant, eh?

For today’s recipe, I made a lot of changes... in the ingredients and their amounts. Half of his recipe would easily feed 3-4 so I started by halving everything. But that didn’t quite work, because I wanted more of some elements, and less of others. And, in true Goldilocks fashion, some things were just right.

Half the originally-specified quantity of tofu and half the shallots were perfect. Small red and “not too hot” chiles aren’t all that easy to come by (even here in “chile country”) so I used a red bell pepper and some red pepper flakes. For us, more ginger is always better. I think we used the full amount specified in the original.

I reduced the star ingredient of the dish – black peppercorns – to about a third the original amount. The full amount - from our first making of this recipe - truly overwhelmed the dish and made it unpleasant to eat. None of the other ingredients even mattered with so much pepper.

Finally, while we enjoyed this dish with the tofu deep-fried (as seen in these photos), we are trying to use less fat when we cook. I used a trick from another favorite tofu recipe (for which I also reduced the oil) and we really like the end results.

You might like the full amount of the pepper, and that is fine - each to her/his own, we say! For us, the balance of flavors is more important.

~ David

Black Pepper Tofu My Way

1 14-ounce package extra firm tofu
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 3-inch piece ginger, coarsely grated
2 tablespoons kecap manis (sweet soy sauce)
4 tablespoons regular soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon coarsely crushed black peppercorns
8 scallions, green parts only, cut into 1-inch pieces
cooked rice, for serving


Halve tofu lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices and pat dry well. (If you plan to use chopsticks, cut each slab in half to make them more manageable.) Put 1 tablespoon soy sauce in a wide shallow dish, then add tofu, turning to coat, and let stand 10 minutes. Pat tofu dry.

Heat oil in a 14-inch heavy, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add tofu in 1 layer and cook, turning over once, until tofu is browned, about 3-4 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate, and wipe out skillet. If you have a small skillet, this can be done in batches.

Start the rice. It will take about 20 minutes, as will the rest of the recipe.

Melt the butter in a large, clean skillet over medium-low heat. Add the butter; when melted, add the shallots, bell pepper, pepper flakes, and ginger. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft and sweet.

Add the kecap manis, soy sauce, and sugar; stir to mix well. Add the black peppercorns and scallions; cook for 1-2 minutes, or until scallions are just starting to soften.

Add reserved fried tofu and stir to coat. Cook for 1-2 minutes to reheat the tofu.

Spoon rice into serving bowls, and top with tofu, vegetables, and sauce.


Serves 3-4.




26 comments:

  1. I hear you loud and clear David and I love the way you prepared this tofu dish. Thanks for creating a healthier version, I have to try it.

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    1. It’s jus the proof, Gerlinde, that not all cookbooks are flawless... or the chefs!

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  2. Bravo! Sometimes you have to use common sense. I can't believe any recipe has 4 oz of butter per serving! That's insanity! Maybe there were typos in that book, too! Did you hear about his latest being recalled due to so many errors in the recipes? That editor has probably had to change jobs!

    Anyway, I'm not a huge tofu fan, but used properly, I can really get into it and I honestly think I'd LOVE this dish! Great job, David!

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    1. And I didn’t even mention that there was EVOO in there, too!

      I would give this tofu dish a try, Christina - it’s so different from other!

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  3. Oh dear! Tsk tsk Ottolenghi. The ratios in your version of this tofu recipe sound perfect, and you've reminded me, I need to eat more tofu.

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    1. Same with us, John - we often forgot about Tofu!

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  4. Thank you for this one. I really think we have to use every cookbook idea as a base to develop something tasteful and attractive for us.

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    1. That is a great way to look at cookbooks and recipes in general!

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  5. This looks fantastic, David! I actually really enjoy tofu, but I tend to throw it into a blender to make some dairy-free desserts. Wonderful, wonderful flavors in this recipe!

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    1. I think you will like this unblended version!

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  6. We all love tofu at my house and this recipe -- especially with your adjustments -- looks really delicious! Side note: I love the pretty, soft cloth beneath the dish in your photos.

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    1. Thanks for noticing the Fortuny-inspired silk. We used it to make a shawl for a friend, and this was the remnant!

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  7. Yummy, this is definetly my kind of dish. Love everything about it :D

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  8. Well this looks absolutely delicious! Love all the colours and great to use tofu too. I know what you mean about some recipes being a bit OTT!

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    1. As another reader suggested, one has to wonder if anybody tests these recipes before they print the book! That said, Caroline, this is a wonderful recipe and I hope you get to try it!

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  9. Yes, that does seem a bit odd having so much butter in the original recipe. This dish looks Asian-inspired with the tofu and soy sauce, therefore all that butter seems out of place.I love tofu,especially when the slices are coated in sesame seeds!

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    1. Actually, Fran, in this particular dish the butter is quite nice with the other flavors. I was surprised myself!

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  10. The results do look delicious! I have a copy of Plenty in e-book form, but have to admit I have yet to cook from it. I'm rather stuck in my Italian rut, I guess. But you've inspired me. Maybe this weekend...

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    1. Frank – you’re not alone and being stuck in the “Italian rut“ – I’m right there with you! It’s really hard for us to explore other cuisines when we love Italian so much.

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  11. It really makes you wonder sometimes if the printed recipes were even taste tested. Your version sounds like a good one.

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    1. That is so true, Karen! I have reviewed cookbooks that not only have mistakes in the recipes but show photographs of completely different finished versions. Ridiculous!

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  12. David, I approve wholeheartedly of your changes and would have made them myself. I think it is a common problem with cookbooks by restaurant chefs that the recipes are not scaled properly for home cooking. And I don't think they've necessarily been tested!

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    1. I agree, Jean - end, even if they are (as we know), restaurants often cook wit much more fat than they let on!

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  13. Sounds like the perfect alterations! Another good one to add to my list of David's recipes to make!

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    1. I think you were going to make this yesterday or today, Susan. I’m glad you found the sweet soy sauce – and I hope you and Towny really enjoy this as much as Mark and I do.

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