Monday, 20 December 2010

Spicy tofu sambal

I have so many friends who are confirmed carnivores. They relish the idea of a rare slab of steak, all bloody and meaty and succulent. The natural antithesis to this is of course tofu. The reactions some people have to this pretty innocous ingredient can be pretty negative. Of course, it doesn't exactly scream appetising. White, wobbly and jelly-like out the packet, and purportedly without flavour, tofu is sometimes viewed as the premise of hippies and weird vegetarians among many of my peers. Although, I have convinced a few to try it! It's just damn good stuff. And it doesn't taste like rubber, I swear!

In any case, it's been bloody snowy in London recently (and my flight home to Ireland on Thursday hangs in the balance of the weather, argh!) and this spicy, hot African-inspired dish really hits the spot. Made by reducing tomatoes down, with a spicy kick, onions garlic and my favourite spice, ginger, served with tofu soaked in soy sauce then fried alongside some green beans stirfried in chilli and garlic. How does that not sound amazing? This is probably my most favourite dish to eat out of everything I can cook, to be honest. It's gotten to the point where I have to try to stop myself from eating the salty umame goodness of the tofu as I marinade it. Also, the beans that go with this dish are absolutely goddamned incredible. The first time I had them, it was a revelation.

Ah, lovely tofu. You're not so bad.
The secret ingredient in this - and in the name - is Sambal, or Sambal Oelek to be precise. This is where the fact that my boyfriend is Dutch comes into play. A lot of Dutch cooking has a strong Indonesian flavour backgrounding it, for obvious reasons. So wen we go to the Netherlands, Sambal Oelek paste and Kejap Manis (a sweet Indonesian soy sauce) are two things I always try to stock up on if we are low at home. In the meantime though, some kind of chilli sauce - not sweet chilli sauce, though - will do the trick. 
Sorry about the gloves, it's really cold in my house at the moment.
As with almost everything, this is good for two hungry people.
Spicy tofu sambal with garlic and chilli green beans
  • One pack of tofu 
  • Soy sauce
  • 4 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 4 or 5 large tomatoes (ripe and cut into chunks) or a 400g tin of chopped/plum tomatoes
  • Good pinch of rock salt (1/2 a tsp)
  • 2 fat cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp light brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp Sambal Oelek or chilli sauce/paste
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
First things first, you always want to press the tofu or it might just end up falling-aparty and watery and will put you off for life. Take the tofu out of its box (it looks like this in our local supermarket), wrap it in a single sheet of kitchen roll, and put on a plate or in a shallow bowl. Put two dinner plates on top for at least half an hour - this will gradually press the water out of the tofu. Next, drain the water, and cut into 8 chunks, then marinade in a few glugs of soy sauce. You may want to turn your pieces over half way through to ensure nice coverage but it won't matter.
In your biggest non-stick pot (or separately, in a small non-stick frying pan but do remember to add the oil back into your main pot), fry the tofu - but leaving the soy sauce marinade behind, don't chuck it all in! -  in the sunflower oil until brown on all sides, then take out and set to drain on kitchen paper, leaving behind as much sunflower oil as you can. 
Now add your onion and give it a good stir, and let it fry on a medium heat for about five minutes, until it's approaching a soft state. Then add your ginger and chopped or crushed garlic. Mix throughly, then add the chill paste, tomato puree, and sugar. Give it a really good mix, then add salt, and your tomatoes. If it's out the can, no worries, just throw it in. Otherwise, add your tomatoes and 80ml or so of water. You want to bring this up to the boil, then lower so that the tomatoes break down and turn into a sauce, but chunkiness is good. If you're not using a rice cooker, you might want to start thinking about putting your rice on now. After 10 minutes, or however long you want to leave it, you can reintroduce the tofu off the plate into the pot, which will heat it up again.

Chilli green beans
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed or chopped finely
  • 1/2 a red chilli, chopped as finely as possible
  • 120 - 160g of fine green beans (trimmed, if not already)
  • 1 - 2 tbsp of soy sauce
Add a good glug of olive oil to a frying pan - nonstick is best otherwise you're asking for sticky garlic burned to your pan - and let it heat up. Then throw in all the beans, toss them so they get a nice even coating of olive oil, and let them sizzle away for a bit until they start to get some colour and soften up, a few minutes maybe. 
Put your garlic in and mix it through, then QUICKLY add the soy sauce, or it'll burn. I don't usually pay much attention to how much soy sauce, I know a 'glug' is woefully inaccurate amount but that's usually what I do. Or two glugs. Hah.

Then add the chilli and stir until everything is soft and tasty, and darkened. Try one of the beans and make sure that its not deceptively done-looking on the outside but still too crunchy on the inside. The contrast between the salty, garlicy greens and the sweet, spicy tofu sambal is quite amazing, and well worth the extra effort. Serve with rice.


  1. Sounds delish, Nancy love, will have to try!

    I've been put off using tofu blocks not because of the taste (I adore tofu in stir-fries) but because I bought some once but didn't know you have to press the water out prior to use. D'oh! Thanks for the information. :)

  2. This sounds delicious, lovely! I will certainly have to make some soon!

    Corey and I are both vegetarian and are always looking for new recipes to try.

    I can't wait to read more. xo


  3. Thank you to both Jo and Jess! :3 I hope you enjoy

  4. Soy sauce, you say? ;)

  5. Oh mama this looks good. Will prepare post-haste.


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