Black Pepper Tofu


This recipe comes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty and was recommended to me by the lovely Carrie, another food-obsessed cookbook lover who has become an invaluable friend to me in the online world. When she first made this dish sometime ago and raved about how delicious it was, I knew it was something that I had to try. Having grown up on tofu as a child, I love it cooked in whatever shape or form and could happily eat it every night for dinner.

Despite owning over a hundred cookbooks (I’m too afraid to count them now!), I don’t (yet) own any by Ottolenghi, even though quite a few people have emailed me about how wonderful his books and recipes are. The simple truth is, I don’t know much about Ottolenghi so I was very interested in trying out this recipe for dinner tonight.

The recipe for Black Pepper Tofu is best described as a vegetarian version of the popular chicken or beef version found in many Chinese restaurants. Though I’m not sure how authentic Ottolenghi’s version is, not least because the main dish starts with 150g of butter which is a bit unusual for Chinese cuisine!

In fact, the recipe as a whole made my jaw drop at the quantities specified for nearly each ingredient – 12 shallots, 12 garlic cloves, 8 red chillies, 5 tablespoons black pepper … needless to say, hubby almost had a heart attack when he saw how spicy this dish was going to be! Ottolenghi mentions that his recipe already halves the amount of chillies but I scaled it down further to 3 red chillies and 4 tablespoons of black pepper. I think the spiciness of the dish was bearable, but one thing I would do differently next time is to grind the black peppercorns more finely; the recipe specifies a coarse grind but we spent most of our time picking out big chunks of black peppercorn which were not so pleasant to chew on.

Overall, this recipe took longer to make than first anticipated. Frying the tofu pieces took a fair amount of time, though I was able to peel the vast quantities of required shallots and garlic in between turning the tofu pieces and waiting for them to brown. I have tried making easier versions of black pepper sauce, but I suppose it is the caramelised shallots that define Ottolenghi’s recipe.

The sauce was really lovely and sweet from the caramelised shallots and ginger and which went perfectly with steamed jasmine rice.

And as a slight deviation from the recipe but more out of habit, I served the dish sprinkled with lots of freshly chopped coriander.

I think any tofu lover would like this dish and I’m so happy to have finally tried an Ottolenghi recipe! Next time, I would probably reduce the amount of black pepper, and perhaps even halve the amount of butter. But it’s always worth sticking to a recipe the first time and tweaking it to make it your own the next time 🙂


  1. Carrie 5 July 2011

    (((Blush))))Oh the photos are just beautiful Thanh! I am salivating looking at it and its only 7.30am..Job done I should thinks!!I am so pleased you like this dish! Oh and for the record, I do not use all the butter specified..just a fat knob does a good enough job me thinks! But thats the thing with Ottelenghi, its adaptable. I love too, that the spring onions are used as a proper vegetable with that lovely crunch. Wonderful!

    • eatlittlebird 5 July 2011

      Oh that’s good to know that you can reduce the butter! After frying off the tofu, I was rather surprised to use so much butter to caramelise the shallots but I went with it anyway! Given the large quantities of everything, I had some doubts about whether the dish would work out at all, but it all came together in the end and tasted fabulous. Though, as I mentioned above, I would definitely grind the pepper more finely next time!

      • Carrie 5 July 2011

        I think its perhaps inate in a chef to go richer, add a touch more, push further than sometimes necessary, particularly for the home cook. Taking the essentials in this recipe, I would play around with the ratios of the ingredients to suit what you want. I usually say that flexibility of that kind is a sign of a good recipe! :-))

  2. Looks stunning again Creme – I love the table cloths you used too :). That is one mahoosive amount of oil and butter for sure – I’d never use that amount in a million years in an otherwise superfood packed meal. The recipe looks very simple indeed, I do like tofu even though I might have to hold a gun to Neil’s head to get him to eat it lol! I really must order Plenty, there are so many wonderful dishes out there to try – thank you for bringing another to my attention 🙂 xxx

    • eatlittlebird 5 July 2011

      Thanks Jodie! Yes, indeed a lot of oil and butter … but at least the dish tasted good 😉 The tofu takes on a lot of the big flavours in this dish so you don’t really taste the tofu, if you know what I mean. This was my first attempt at an Ottolenghi recipe and I must admit that my interest has now piqued in his books! Can’t wait to try more of his recipes.

  3. Oh my word! I can’t believe how amazing you can even make tofu look!!
    What a lot of pepper though?!
    And you’re right about the butter. A strange ingredient for this dish.
    But I agree, stick to the recipe the first time, then do what you like the next.

    • eatlittlebird 10 July 2011

      Oh thanks, Anna!! You’re right that tofu doesn’t always look appealing but at least it can be tasty!

  4. livinglearningeating 30 July 2011

    yum, saucy tofu 🙂 check out mine:

  5. dhanes 6 August 2011

    Awwww Yeah! Making this today, along with pickled daikon and carrots. I hope mine turns out looking like yours. I’m sure it’ll taste good, my recipes just don’t turn out as pretty.

    • eat little bird 7 August 2011

      I hope this recipe turns out well for you! Will you be adjusting the amount of chillies and black pepper?? Looks only come second … the food has to taste good, first and foremost! 😉

      • dhanes 31 August 2011

        It was awesome. Yes, I tweaked the chillies, added 5 MORE prik kee nu! 🙂

        • eat little bird 31 August 2011

          You added MORE chillies?! Wow, you certainly like your food hot and spicy! Am glad to hear that the dish turned out well for you 🙂


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