The toppings below have a certain Sichuan bent—the cooks of that province prepare exceptionally good renditions. The toppings may be savory-spicy, savory-spicy-tart, or savory-spicy-rich. In Chengdu, Xiao Tan Dou Hua (Mr. Tan’s Bean Flower) has specialized in tofu pudding since 1924. Three generations have endured through the tumultuous twentieth century to continue their delectable craft today. Unfortunately, few street hawkers remain and their Sichuanese cry, “Dou huar! Dou huar!” is seldom heard anymore.
For wonderful earthy depth, head to a Chinese markets for preserved mustard tuber (zha cai). It is sold in cans labeled “Sichuan preserved vegetable.” Maling is a reliable brand. At home, buy or simply prepare the tofu pudding and lay out a bunch of different toppings for your guests to choose among when enjoying this vegetarian recipe.
- 2 tablespoons regular (light) soy sauce
- 1-1/2 tablespoons Chile Oil, with chile flakes
- 1-1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn, toasted and ground
- 1-1/2 tablespoons Chinkiang or balsamic vinegar, optional
- 1/2 cup chopped green onion, green part only
- 1/4 cup unsalted roasted soybeans (soy nuts) or peanuts
- 1/3 cup chopped preserved mustard tuber (zha cai), rinsed if overly salty, optional
- 2 ounces wonton or pot sticker skins or fresh flat Chinese noodles or linguine pasta, optional
- Canola oil for deep-frying, optional
- 4 cups Tofu Pudding
1 To make the sauce, combine the soy sauce, chile oil, and sesame oil. Add Sichuan peppercorn to taste. If you’d like a hot-and-sour finish, add the vinegar (or set it out and let your guests add it to their sauce themselves).
2 Prepare the garnishes. Put the green onion, roasted soybeans, and mustard tuber in separate small dishes. For extra crunch, deep-fry strips of wonton skin or short lengths of noodles. If using wonton or pot sticker skins, cut them into narrow strips, about 1/3 inch wide. With the noodles, cut them into 2- to 3-inch lengths. Heat about 3/4 inch of oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat to about 350ºF on a deep-fry thermometer. If you don’t have a deep-fry thermometer, stick a dry bamboo chopstick into the oil; if bubbles rise immediately to the surface, the oil is ready. Fry the noodles or wonton strips in batches for 1 to 2 minutes, until golden brown. Drain on paper towels, then transfer to a serving bowl. Set at the table with the garnishes and sauce.
3 If your tofu pudding is cold, reheat it as directed in step 3 of the tofu pudding recipe below. Use a metal spoon to scoop up shards of the tofu into individual serving bowls. Expect liquid (whey) to accumulate in the bowls. While you can pour it off, it is nutritious and has a tangy flavor that commingles well with the garnishes. Invite guests to add garnishes and drizzle on the sauce themselves. Enjoy with spoons.
Spicy Meat Topping
Heat 1-1/2 teaspoons of canola oil in a wok or skillet over medium heat. Add 4 ounces ground pork or chicken and cook, stirring and mashing the meat into small pieces, for about 1 minute, until it is just cooked through. Add 2 tablespoons chile bean sauce and 2 minced garlic cloves. Keep stir-frying for another minute until the mixture is super fragrant. Stir in 1 chopped green onion (use the white and green parts) and remove from the heat. Transfer to a small bowl and offer it along with the other garnishes. Include the sauce too, if you like.
Serves 6 as a snack.
BUY THIS BOOK
Excerpted from Asian Tofu: Discover the Best, Make Your Own, and Cook It at Home by Andrea Nguyen. Copyright © 2012 by Andrea Nguyen. Excerpted by permission of Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.