Adding vegetarian dishes to my everyday cooking has required a trip to a specialty Asian market for items such as dark and sweet soy sauces, pomegranate molasses, and an extremely open mind. This plate takes time to make but is outstanding. While not a vegetarian, Yotam Ottolenghi has mastered the art of making the most of humble ingredients. I have yet to cook any recipe of his that has received anything but rave reviews.

Nota bene: The recipe calls for 5 tablespoons black pepper, but I only ever use 2 or 3. Also, be careful with the type of chilies you choose. It’s better to error on the side of mild rather than fiery hot.


  • 1  3/4pounds firm tofu

  • Vegetable oil for frying

  • Cornstarch for dusting

  • 11 tablespoons butter

  • 12 small shallots, thinly sliced

  • 8 fresh red chilies (fairly mild ones)

  • 12 garlic cloves, crushed

  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger

  • 3 tablespoons sweet soy sauce

  • 3 tablespoons sweet soy sauce

  • 4 teaspoons dark soy sauce

  • 2 tablespoons sugar

  • 5 tablespoons coarsely crushed black peppercorns (use a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder)

  • 16 small and thin green onions, cut into 1 1/4 inch segment


1. Start with the tofu. Pour enough oil into a large frying pan or wok to come 1/4 inch up the sides and heat. Cut the tofu into large cubes, about 1x1 inch. Toss them in some cornstarch and shake off the excess, and then add to the hot oil. (You’ll need to fry the tofu pieces in small batches so they don’t stew in the pan.) Fry, turning them around as you go, until they are golden all over and have a thin crust. As they are cooked, transfer them to paper towels.

2. Remove the oil and any sediment from the pan, then put the butter inside and melt it. Add the shallots, chiles, garlic, and ginger. Sauté on low to medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the ingredients have turned shiny and are totally soft. Next, add the soy sauces and sugar and stir, then add the crushed black pepper.

3. Add the tofu to warm it up in the sauce for about a minute. Finally, stir in the green onions. Serve hot, with steamed rice.

Serves 4