I never follow a recipe. I’m not even sure I’m capable of following a recipe. Even as I read a recipe for the first time, I instantly omit and change things in my mind. This means that sometimes we end up with incredible things on our plates, delicious dishes colored by my signature changes. But occasionally we end up with mediocre things on our plates and I’m to blame for those as well. Regardless, things are always dynamic in the kitchen, always creative, always innovative.
I see the value in following a recipe exactly. You can establish a baseline from which to make changes in the future. You gain understanding about what the author intended for flavor, texture, and appearance. But trusting yourself to make changes is just as valuable. Take for example this Black Pepper Tofu recipe from Saveur.
11 tablespoons of butter? Really? Two cups of canola oil? Ugh. Not for me. Some of the amounts just seem plain wrong here. I can’t even think about 11 tablespoons of butter without gaining a pound or two. And I’ve never been a big fan of frying things in a vat of oil when I can pan-fry them just as easily. Plus there are a few ingredients that I’ve never heard of: Kecap Manis? Turns out it’s a sweet variety of soy sauce, which sounds awesome, but I’m not going to the Asian market today. Instead, I’m using what I’ve got, getting creative and charging ahead! Black Pepper Tofu!
So, here’s how it went down. I sort of halved everything because I only had one 14 oz. package of tofu. I had green Serrano chiles, which I stemmed, seeded and minced. Instead of three different soy sauces, I used 5 tablespoons dark soy sauce and a tablespoon of maple syrup. I drained and pan-fried the tofu in a couple tablespoons of oil and sautéed the other stuff in another tablespoon of oil.
The result? Total deliciousness. The dish was crazy, spicy, hot, though. I would likely omit a Serrano or two next time, but the overall taste was delightful. The flavors mingle well together yet occasionally pop with a burst of fresh ginger or garlic, scallion or Serrano. Feel free to follow my adapted recipe below or just use it as a sketch to create your own masterpiece.
Black Pepper Tofu
3 Tbsp Canola oil
1 14oz package firm tofu, drained and cubed
6 cloves garlic, minced
4 shallots, finely chopped
3 Serrano chiles, seeded and minced
5 Tbsp soy sauce
1 ½ Tbsp freshly grated ginger
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp maple syrup
8 scallions cut into 1 inch pieces
2 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper
In a large skillet over medium heat 2 Tbsp canola oil. Add the tofu and pan fry, tossing tofu frequently until all sides are golden brown, about 10 minutes. Set tofu aside. In the same pan heat the remaining 1 Tbsp oil. Add the garlic, shallots, Serrano chiles, and ginger. Stirring frequently, cook until ingredients are soft, about 8 minutes. Add the soy sauce, sugar, and maple syrup and heat through. Add the tofu and black pepper. Stir to combine. Serve over steamed rice.