Monday, May 18, 2009

Cabbage and Crispy Five Spice Tofu

Have you ever had one of those bites that just makes you stop thinking? And then your brain comes back online and you think yum. yum. yum. over and over again. And, if you're into cooking, the next thought is how did they do that? How can I do that? Three years ago in Florida, in the EPCOT China pavilion at the restaurant Nine Dragons, I had one of those bites.

This recipe is not what I ate that fateful night, which was a beautiful piece of monkfish, dredged in Chinese Five Spice powder and served over a bed of... I have no idea what. Probably not poorly-lit cabbage, but my memory is much to focused on the fish itself. I bought a jar of Five Spice a while back, and forgot about it (I keep doing that!) until I found myself with a hungry belly, a block of tofu and a small Napa cabbage.

So I went ahead and dredged the tofu in cornstarch and five spice powder before lightly pan frying it - pressing the tofu first and dredging in cornstarch makes it deliciously crispy! Next time I might adjust the ratio for more five spice in the dredging step, but this will provide a hint that is complemented by the five spice in the cabbage, which is sliced and sauteed with vegetable oil, salt, pepper, and more five spice powder. So, yeah, five spice ATTACK. I happen to think it's delicious, but if you don't think you'll like a combination of pepper, star anise, ginger, cloves and fennel... make something else. Oh, like anything on this handy new index of recipes! Wee!

Crispy Five-Spice Tofu with Five-Spice Cabbage
Feeds two, generously. I don't see why it can't be doubled but you'll probably have to fry the tofu in two batches. You can skip the pressing step on the tofu, but I recommend it - less moisture means crispier crust. If you're not into cabbage, the tofu would be tasty dipped in sweet and sour sauce, just skip the five-spice in the dredging... but then you'd be missing the point.

1/2 block extra firm tofu
1/2-3/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 tablespoons five spice powder

1 small or 1/2 large head napa cabbage
vegetable oil
five spice powder
hot sauce (optional)

Wrap the tofu in a clean kitchen towel or a double layer of paper towels. Place it on a cutting board. If you want, prop the cutting board slightly so it drains into the sink. Stack a heavy pot filled with canned goods on top to squeeze the excess moisture out of the tofu. Let it sit for an hour or two if you have time, half an hour if you don't.

Meanwhile or when the tofu has had 45 minutes of draining time, slice the cabbage as thin as you like - not as thin as coleslaw, but nothing that's going to fall off the fork while you try to eat. Toss the core and any really tough white parts. Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the sliced cabbage and toss to coat. Add generous salt and pepper, and start with about a teaspoon of five-spice powder. Cover the pot for a just a couple of minutes to get the cabbage started.

Slice the tofu into half inch thick slices, either squares or triangles. In a wide shallow bowl or pie pan, combine the cornstarch and 1 1/2 tablespoons of five spice powder. Use a fork to mix it together. Dredge the tofu, shaking off any excess. If you're the sort of person who likes things "extra crispy," set the tofu aside for a few minutes to let the cornstarch absorb into the tofu and then dredge it again right before frying. In a wide shallow pan over medium flame, heat enough vegetable oil to coat the pan to almost 1/8th of an inch. In one layer, fry the tofu until it is golden brown on one side, 2-4 minutes. Use tongs to turn the pieces over and fry the other side.

Give the cabbage a stir and taste a piece. Is it tender yet? It probably needs more salt and possibly more five spice powder. Now would also be a good time to add a few shakes of hot sauce and stir the cabbage.

Drain the tofu on a paper towel lined plate.

The cabbage is done when it is tender but still has a little bit of crunch to it. Pile some on a plate, add a little more hot sauce to taste, and prop some crispy tofu on top. Dig in!


  1. HLey A ~ making the raspberry tart this weekend * can't wait * YUM! xo AP

  2. Yum! I use my five spice powder whenever I can. I love it on pork tenderloin.

  3. Love "extra" crispy tofu, thanks for the tips!

  4. this looks sooo good! my kind of meal. and i agree about the pressing of the tofu. i tried it awhile back and it did make for a crispy bite!

  5. Cornstarch. So that's the secret!

    Huh. I guess I'll have to give cooking tofu another shot.

  6. This was good! I added a bit of soy sauce and hot pepper flakes to the cabbage.