But living in China, as in so many ways, has changed my cooking habits completely; not long after arriving here I had a kind of tofu-epiphany (if you can imagine that), and I am now a fully-paid up member of the Tofu Fan Club. Perhaps this turnaround was in part due to the incredibly wide variety of tofu products available here compared to the rubbish selection in the UK (all health food shop tastelessness as far as I could tell). Go to any market in Chengdu and you will find many stalls/stores that specialize in tofu, and positively brim with the stuff; smooth, fresh blocks (0n the far left in the photo below), slightly crumbly and more fragrant ones (to the right of the latter), deep-fried bite-sized cubes, millimeter-thin tofu 'skin', and the kind that stars in the recipe below, 'dry' or smoked tofu (in the photo, all the darker ones), which comes in many shapes and sizes (including that rather phallic one in the middle there...)
For a while, vegetarian Cam refused to touch this stuff, saying that it tastes too much like meat. Eventually however, he succumbed to it's smoky, chewy charms, and it's now a regular on our table. The following recipe (picture at the top) is based on a dish I had at a very modest eatery one time for lunch. The smoothness of the tofu contrasts wonderfully with the crispness of the celery, and the Sichuan pepper and chillies lend it that awesome mala (numbing and spicy) kick.
Smoked Tofu and Celery
Serves 2-3 as part of a family-style mealAround 100g smoked tofu
Several sticks of celery
3-5 spring onions
4-8 dried chillies (depending on how spicy you like it!), cut in half and seeds discarded
1 teaspoon of whole Sichuan pepper
1 tablespoon of rapeseed oil
2 teaspoons of sesame oil
Salt to taste
1. Wash, dry, and cut the tofu into roughly 5 cm x 1 cm 'fingers'. Wash the celery, discard the leaves and cut into same shape as the tofu. Wash the spring onions, discard the outer layer and then cut into the same shape as the tofu and the celery (I hope you're noticing a pattern here!)
2. Heat the rapeseed oil in a wok, then add the chillies and Sichuan pepper.
3. When the chillies and peppers are starting to get fragrant, add the tofu, celery and spring onions.
4. Stir-fry over a high heat for about 3 minutes, or until all the ingredients are piping hot.
5. Season with salt, turn off the heat, add the sesame oil and then serve.