Being of Vietnamese descent, I grew up with tofu to be part of my daily diet and I can’t get enough of it either. Anyone who was raised in an Asian family or who hung out a lot with Asians would most likely tell you that tofu is one of the greatest culinary inventions. And I’m not exaggerating. Sometimes we just love eating bland and tasteless food. Most vegans and vegetarians have grown to appreciate the taste of it. Although, it’s perceived as an uninspiring and boring food, sometimes I think less is more. It’s like water. At times, water can quench your thirst better than any other drinkable liquids (soda, beer, juice). Ever so often, esthetics can play an important role in making water look so appetizing. To most, a nice tall glass of water with ice cubes looks more tantalizing than a plastic bottle filled with water. I think this is the best analogy I can think of to best describe how tofu can be appealing to one’s taste buds. You just need to be creative with it in making it more sexy. Nowadays, there are thousands of tofu recipes out there that make this edible bite more appealing to any eating style.
I’m even trying to convince some of my friends that tofu is actually very enjoyable to eat. One of them is a friend who is Chinese and is as open as one can be about food. But tofu doesn’t seem to jive with him. I don’t get it, but life goes on...
One of my favorite tofu dishes is served in a local Chinese restaurant, near my place. It’s stuffed tofu (aka bean curd) with shrimps and black bean sauce. I love this dish because the tofu is very crispy and the shrimp stuffing is really savory. The shrimp stuffing freezes very well for later use if you have some leftover. I'm pretty sure after you've tasted this dish, you won't think of tofu the same way.
And what is the secret to making tofu crispy? Use firm tofu and remove as much water as you can with paper towel. Coat the tofu with a little bit of cornstarch and fry for about 2 minutes on each side in very hot oil, until brown.
Preparation time: 20 minutes, Cooking: 30 minutes
*Recipe “au pif”:6 - 8 medium sized cubes or triangles of firm tofu (about 2 1/2 inches wide on each side)
12 medium sized raw shrimps (shells and tails removed and deveined), coarsely chopped
1/4 cup ground/minced chicken
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp fermented black bean paste (found in most Asian supermarkets - I use the one from Lee Kum Kee)
1 tbsp garlic oil (browned garlic soaked in oil)
1/4 cup cornstarch and water mix (2 tsp cornstarch diluted in 1/4 cup water)
1/4 tsp hot chili paste
2 cups of vegetable oil to fry
1 tbsp chopped scallions to garnish
To remove water from tofu, place a cutting board on top of the tofu cubes/triangles for about 15 minutes. Weight will squeeze water out. And then pat dry with paper towel.
Scoop out about 3 scoops of tofu with melon scooper/baller from each cube.
Mix shrimp, white pepper, salt and sugar in food processor until you have a paste. Mix the shrimp paste with the ground chicken and cornstarch in a bowl, with your hands, until all well blended.
Stuff the tofu with the shrimp mixture and coat each cube/triangle lightly with cornstarch.
Heat oil in medium sized saucepan on high heat. When the oil is hot, add in 2 cubes/triangles at a time and fry 2 minutes until light golden brown and turn them over to fry the other side for another 2 minutes. Place on paper towel on a large plate. Repeat with remaining cubes/triangles.
Black bean sauce:
Heat a medium sized saucepan on high heat and add in the garlic oil, the black bean paste, chili paste and the cornstarch water mixture. Stir well until you have a thick gravy-like consistency. Add more water if too thick.
Lay the stuffed tofu on a serving dish and ladle the black bean sauce on tofu. Garnish with chopped scallions.
Serve hot while crispy with steamed jasmine rice.
Because this dish is usually eaten with other dishes, it can well serve 4 people.