Have you ever chewed Szechuan peppercorns by themselves? They make your tongue tingle, a feeling like licking a battery. It’s like nothing else in the world – you can see why Szechuan foods are sometimes labelled “Numb and Spicy” when translated from Chinese. Don’t worry though, in this vegan and gluten-free recipe, the feeling is rounded out by earthy miso and balsamic, and a good pungent Szechuan-hit of garlic, ginger and chilli.
I’ve been experimenting with the peppercorns, trying to find an easy dish that showcases them but isn’t overpowered. Tofu is the perfect pair to it, a great blank canvas for all of these big flavours, and the mushrooms give a gorgeous meaty bite. I’ve been a bit stuck in my rut lately, making the same peanut-butter stir fry for dinner several times a week, so I’m pleased to have created something new to add to the repertoire.
You can buy Szechuan peppercorns at Chinese supermarkets, or at bigger supermarkets, and once you have them, this dish is basically a store-cupboard standby. Hurray! Happy Chinese New Year
- block of firm tofu
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- ½ tsp Szechuan peppercorns, ground
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- thumb-sized piece ginger, minced
- 2 fresh chillis or 1 tsp chilli flakes
- 2 tsp miso
- 2 tsp soy sauce (Use tamari for a gluten free recipe)
- 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
- 200g mushrooms
- 6 baby bok choi, or a handful of any leafy green
- small bunch spring onions
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Press the excess water out of your tofu by placing it under something heavy (I use my cast iron pan's lid) for 5-10 minutes. Then, cut into 2cm cubes.
- Toss the cubes in the soy sauce and sesame oil, and bake in a single layer in the oven for 15 minutes. They will have a really lovely blancmange-y wobble when they're done.
- In a wok, fry the szechuan peppercorns in the oil for a minute, then add the garlic, ginger and chilli and cook for another couple of minutes, stirring really vigorously to stop it catching.
- Add the mushrooms, miso, soy sauce and balsamic vinegar (If you are using bok choi, put the bodies in at this point, saving the leaves for later) and cook for 6-7 minutes, until the mushrooms have given out their liquid to make a dark, spicy sauce with the other ingredients.
- Add your bok choi leaves, or leafy veg if using, along with your baked tofu. Cook for a further 2 minutes, until the leaves are wilted.
- Serve with thinly sliced spring onions on top, and brown rice.