Sunday, 26 April 2009

Smoked Tofu and Celery

I have a confession to make. Before I came to live in China, I wasn't a fan of tofu. Tofu-lovers, please withhold your wrath if you will. Now, of course, I can't get enough of the stuff, but back in the UK everything I made with tofu turned out a disaster (like the time I tried to stir-fry silken tofu, for example...)

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 meal

Around 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.


  1. ps. my lovely friend meg, a former dweller of chengdu now living in the US, tells me that over her way rapeseed oil is called canola oil and is cheap and easy to come by - and as i just learnt on, is rich in vitamin e AND has more omega 3 than olive oil. so yay for rapeseed/canola oil!

  2. wow jessie! You've come along way since since your dark old days of thinking tofu was a type of strained yoghurt!

    I'm so happy you've made this blog, now I can walk into your kitchen any time of the day (and night!) and mock your cookery...Totland Road 2.0 style. But damnit, now you've worked out a really good way to stop me from gulping down ladles of your food whilst your back is turned!

    Come back!

    ps, i tried to make my famous tofu bound kneidelach for passover... it was a disaster... it went from matzah balls to gloopy matzah soup!

  3. ok, serious question now, how do you usually dry your tofu? just on the outside with a towel or something? Or do you put a weight ontop of it and let the water bleed out?

  4. dan! so lovely to hear from you!
    and in answer to your question, i only wash and dry it (lightly, with a tea towel) to get it clean - i'm buying from markets where the tofu is left out in the open all day, so it's just a hygiene thing. the tofu is already 'dry' in the second way you mention when i buy it, and probably made so in pretty much the way you describe.
    on a side note, the chinese and english names are a bit confusing i think cos they seem to imply different qualities but are actually for the same product. i guess the tofu i use is smoked as well due to the brown skin and meaty flavour, and i don't know why the chinese name is just 'dry tofu' and not 'dry and smoked tofu'. or maybe it is and i just don't know it....mmmm....anyway, i hope that answers your question - i'm pretty sure you can buy tofu more-or-less like this stuff in the UK.
    ps. i'd totally forgotten your tofu-vegan-passover exploits! so really you are my original tofu guru - kenidelach disaster or no kenidelach disaster!

  5. thanks a lot, that's really helpful to know about the tof. man i can imagine your cooking is unbelievable out there. I tried your bean dip, or something inspired by it, and it was gorgeous. I've never thought about putting sweet chilli sauce into... well... a cross between humous and mash!

    Hey jess, have you found out the secrets of making steamed things, steamed dumplings, steamed bread balls with lotus paste inside (or maybe that's too japanese), that kind of thing?

    All the best m'dear.

  6. wow! it's a TRIP to hear that you're making my recipes! awesome!
    and in answer to your question, i regularly steam vegetables but have yet to learn the secrets of the world of steam...
    but! i have a friend who is going to teach me how to make baozi (stuffed steamed bread rolls), so keep your eyes peeled for a blog post about that soon...