Chinese Takeout-Style Black Pepper Tofu Recipe
This Vegan Chinese take-out style black pepper tofu recipe is my take on a traditional Chinese takeout: black pepper chicken. One of my favorite chefs Yotam Ottolenghi, who has restaurants across London (a few of which I had the pleasure of visiting!), has a popular black pepper tofu recipe in his cookbook, Plenty, and it inspired me to create my own healthy and easy version.
My black pepper tofu is spicy from the red chili peppers and cracked black pepper, but if you’re not big on heat you can reduce the amount of each of these ingredients without compromising the overall flavor. The black pepper sauce packs a punch with classic Asian-inspired ingredients such as ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, and scallions. This recipe is so flavorful, it’s reminiscent of the best Chinese restaurant takeout but without the extra oil and additives and of course meat — but meatless does NOT mean flavorless!
This tofu-based, meatless dish is ready in just under 30 minutes and can be quickly put together as a side or even as a main meal! In my house I love incorporating tofu into my family’s meals for a nice protein boost. If you’re looking for other yummy tofu dishes, check out some of my Asian-inspired tofu recipes:
HOW DO YOU PRESS TOFU?
Tofu comes packed in water to keep it moist, preventing it from changing texture. To make sure it holds its shape in salads and stir-fry dishes, it’s important to press the water out. All you do is cut the plastic on the top, drain the water, and use a tofu press. I always just use the old-school method: Simply slice the tofu in half and place the halves in between a few paper towels on the top and bottom. Put the wrapped tofu in a colander over your sink and drain the water until the tofu is firm and dry (anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes!).
HOW DO YOU MAKE THE BLACK PEPPER SAUCE like the takeout style?
This dish is all about the sauce. Get to know these important sauce ingredients:
- Chili peppers: I used red chili peppers but you can sub with jalapeno or add dried cayenne/red pepper flakes.
- Cornstarch: For thickening the sauce, but you can also use arrowroot.
- Fresh cracked black pepper: This the star of the show and can be adjusted based on your tolerance level.
- Garlic cloves: A few minced cloves or 1 1/2 teaspoons of powdered garlic does the trick.
- Ginger: Ginger is pungent and spicy and is an essential ingredient in the sauce. Try to use fresh ginger as the powdered variety will not be the same.
- Maple syrup: Counterbalancing the spiciness of the sauce with a touch of sweet flavor, maple syrup also caramelizes when heated and makes the sauce stick better to the tofu.
- Scallions: Along with ginger and garlic, scallions are a common addition to the aromatic style of Chinese cooking.
- Soy sauce: Use tamari if you’re following a gluten-free diet. Coconut aminos for a soy-free option also works well.
- Toasted sesame oil: Dark brown in color, the toasted variety adds a nutty flavor to your sauce.
- Vegetable broth: You can use water if you don’t have broth on hand.
- Course: Main Course
- Cuisine: Chinese
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 20 minutes
- Allergens: Soy
- Servings: 4
- 1/4 cup tamari
- 1/4 cup vegetable broth (use water if you don't have vegetable broth on hand)
- 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch (arrowroot flour or tapioca flour are good substitutes)
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 14-oz block firm tofu (drained, pressed, cubed)
- 1-2 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
- 3-4 cloves garlic (minced)
- 1 1/2-inch knob ginger (minced)
- 1 bunch scallions (cut into 1-inch pieces)
- 1-2 chili peppers (sliced, seeds removed)
- 1 bunch cilantro (roughly chopped)
In a small bowl, combine the tamari, water, sweetener, and cornstarch.
In a large wok or skillet, heat the sesame oil over medium-high.
Add the tofu cubes and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden on all sides (about 10 minutes). It doesn’t have to be perfect!
Add in your stir-fry sauce, cracked pepper, garlic, and ginger, then stir fry for another 3 minutes or so and add in the scallions and chili pepper. Liquids should start to thicken a bit.
Cook until the scallions are just softened (about 5 more minutes).
Serve with brown rice, a brown rice/quinoa mix, basmati rice, or jasmine rice, and add a large handful of roughly chopped cilantro on the side.
HOW DO YOU MAKE THE TOFU CRISPY For Chinese Style tofu?
For this black pepper tofu recipe, I like to use extra-firm tofu to ensure that it holds its shape during the cooking process. In addition to pressing the water out of your tofu, be sure to heat your pan and the oil prior to adding any ingredients, which will render the tofu crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Another method that you can use to get a crispy exterior is sprinkling each side of the tofu with cornstarch and baking or frying it. However, in this case, we want to save the cornstarch for thickening our delicious sauce.
STORING AND REHEATING LEFTOVERS
Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 5 days in an airtight container. Heat them in the microwave for about 45 seconds, pausing in between to stir the dish so it becomes evenly heated throughout. You can also warm it up in a saucepan on the stove over medium heat for a few minutes, adding a drop of oil or water if it becomes too dry.