Black Pepper Tofu

Fiery and addictive Black Pepper Tofu. This mouthwatering recipe is from Ottolenghi and it is a perfect vegetarian dish served with steamed rice.

black pepper tofu on plate with blue patterned tea towel

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.

black pepper tofu on white plate with cutlery on tea towel

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 🙂


Black Pepper Tofu

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5 from 1 review

  • Author:
  • Prep Time: 10 mins
  • Cook Time: 30 mins
  • Total Time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 3 to 4

Fiery and addictive Black Pepper Tofu. This mouthwatering recipe is from Ottolenghi and it is a perfect vegetarian dish served with steamed rice.


  • 800 g fresh tofu (firm or silken tofu)
  • 65 g (1/2 cup) cornflour (cornstarch)
  • vegetable oil, for frying
  • 150 g (1 1/3 stick) unsalted butter
  • 12 small shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 3 red chillies, thinly sliced (or more to taste)
  • 12 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 3 tablespoons ginger, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons sweet soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 4 teaspoons dark soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 tablespoons black peppercorns, crushed
  • 16 small, thin spring onions, cut into short lengths


  1. Heat a wide frying pan or wok with about 1cm depth of vegetable oil.
  2. Cut the tofu into large cubes.
  3. Coat the tofu on all sides in the cornflour (cornstarch).
  4. Fry the tofu pieces in batches until they are lightly golden with a nice crust.
  5. Drain the tofu pieces on a wire rack on a baking tray or plate.
  6. In a large saucepan, melt the butter on low-medium heat.
  7. Sauté the shallots, chillies, garlic and ginger. Cook for about 10-15 minutes until the shallots have softened.
  8. Add all of the sauces , sugar and pepper, and stir.
  9. Taste the sauce for seasoning.
  10. Add the tofu through the sauce and stir it through the sauce gently to warm through.
  11. Garnish with the spring onions.
  12. Serve hot with steamed rice.

Kitchen Notes

If you are using silken tofu, just be careful that it is more fragile than firm tofu and takes a bit longer to fry and crisp up. But it is absolutely delicious in this recipe.

To convert from cups to grams, and vice-versa, please see this handy Conversion Chart for Basic Ingredients.


  • Serving Size: 1
  • Calories: 590
  • Sugar: 12.9g
  • Sodium: 834mg
  • Fat: 41.5g
  • Carbohydrates: 35.8g
  • Fiber: 5.3g
  • Protein: 23.2g
  • Cholesterol: 82.4mg

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  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 🙂

  6. Julia 12 April 2018

    This looks amazing! I cannot wait to give it a try! Thank you for sharing this great recipe!