Nine years ago, I was snowed in on my birthday.
Literally snowed in, as in we couldn’t budge open the front door.
I had just moved to Boston, and I was living in a cozy apartment along the Charles River. Across the hall lived one of my best friends, GP, who, obviously, was snowed in, too. We missed sunny Manila; we still weren’t used to the freezing cold, the blasting winds, the two feet of snow that look so romantic but actually felt fiercely chilling.
Later in the day, the snow let up, the streets were partly cleared, and we could actually venture outside. But by then we have embraced our snowed in state, and we decided to stay in and order Chinese food instead. Our friend Rico was there with us. He, too, was still not used to winter. So the three of us stayed inside together, celebrated my birthday, and had a small Chinese feast. It warmed us up and made our small apartments feel more like home.
I don’t remember much of what we ordered – we probably ordered duck (we always get roast duck), and some sort of fried rice – but I do remember trying my first taste of Salt and Pepper Spareribs.
I was so intrigued by the name – is it really just spareribs seasoned with salt and pepper? Isn’t that kind of boring? Why just use salt and pepper when you can liven up dishes with chili flakes and garlic and soy sauce?
Little did I know that those Salt and Pepper dishes at Chinese restaurants would eventually become my favorites. Salt and Pepper Tofu has become a regular order.
Yes, it really is just a protein (spareribs, pork chops, chicken, fish, shrimp, tofu) seasoned with salt and pepper then fried. And as it is, it is very good. It’s true that sometimes the simplest things taste the best.
But then the tofu it is tossed with a savory mix of spices and greens, and it is elevated to something special.
Salt and Pepper Tofu
(adapted from Veggie Belly)
1 block extra firm tofu
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
fresh ground black pepper
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 celery rib (or 1/2 cup, chopped)
1 jalapeno, chopped
1 small shallot, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon honey
Pat dry or drain the tofu and cut into 1 inch cubes. In a shallow bowl, mix together the flour, salt, and pepper. Gently toss the tofu into flour mixture, making sure the pieces are well-coated.
In a small sauce pan, heat the sesame oil over medium heat. Add the scallion, celery, and jalapeno, and saute for 4-5 minutes, or until softened. Add ginger and garlic, and cook for an additional minute or two. Pour in soy sauce and honey, turn off heat, and mix everything together. Set aside.
In a big frying pan, heat the vegetable oil over high heat. Fry the tofu in batches, making sure the pan is not too crowded (I ended up doing three batches), flipping them around, till the sides are starting to lightly brown. Set tofu aside on paper towel-lined plate to drain excess oil.
Toss tofu with half of the vegetable mixture, and use the rest to top off the dish. Serve warm.