Black Pepper Tofu: When the tables are turned

For SH – for revealing something about me I didn’t know

Those who know me well know that I’m kind of inflexible.  If I have a schedule on any given day, before the day starts out, I’ve carved out mini projects that will take place all day long.  Work out.  Cook dinner (in the middle of the day because I can’t in the evening.)  Read.  Bake cookies to give away.  Plan lessons.  Volunteer.  Practice music.  Blog.  Write letters.  Call doctors.  Call dentists.  Each day, I carve out what I need to do and get myself mentally behind all the tasks.  If’ it’s not in my calendar, I’m generally unwilling to do something.

Last week, I got a text from good friend asking me what I was doing.
SH:  U working this afternoon?
Me: I’m just finished with the dentist.  Not teaching until 330.
SH: Want to try a restaurant?
Me: Where?
SH: San Carlos.  If no, we can just have lunch together.
Me:  What kind?
SH:  American, we can split a burger or try the chicken sandwich.  Johnson’s salt box
Me:  I’d rather eat with you at home.
SH:  Are you sure?  Could be fun to try something new.  My treat.
Me:  I have sausage kale pasta.
SH:  Come on you have the time
Me:  I ate out on Saturday. I am surprised you are craving American.
SH:  I’m not, trying to spread my wings.
Me:  Hmmm.  Can I fry you a banana?  A round one.
SH:  When are you home?
Me: 10 minutes
SH: I’m going to kidnap you.
Me: You psychological.
SH:  We walk afterwards.  Must take advantage of our freedom.
Me:  You a force of nature.

I tried politely to push my own agenda of staying at home but it didn’t work.  SH didn’t know this, but I had my afternoon at home carved out.  There were some phone calls that needed to be made, a bunch of cookies that I had planned to bake, a dinner for the family I had planned to cook, but suddenly I found myself on my way to lunch.  I wasn’t sure how it exactly happened, but I decided just to relax and give it a whirl.

As we sat down and waited for our food, SH turned to me and said, “You know I channeled you earlier.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“I pretended I was you and didn’t take no for an answer,” she said with a smile.

“What are you TALKING ABOUT?” I repeated.

“I noticed that when you want something, you ask more than once.  Sometimes you ask two or three or even four times, so I decided I would keeping asking until you came.”

“What are you TALKING ABOUT?” I asked incredulously.

“You’re persistent.  I wanted to see if I was persistent if you would come and it WORKED!!” she said gleefully.

“I’m persistent?” I said in wonder.

“Yes.  When you really want something, you won’t take no for an answer.”

This conversation really blew my mind, because there flew out the window my self-perception that I am easy going and a go-with-the-flow type of person.  Instead I got “persistent” as a label.  And I’m not sure if being persistent is exactly good.  Flies are persistent.  As are weeds.  Grey hairs are persistent.  So are children.  Wrinkles are really persistent and so is the layer of fat on around my belly.  As far as I can tell, persistent isn’t necessarily a flattering thing.

I decided to take my persistent label today, the unflattering version, and turn it into something good.  Although I was kind of tired, I decided to be persistent and create this recipe that had been rattling in my head for a while.  I saw a version of it in Saveur, and decided to play around with it and make it much more me.  The chopping took a bit of time, but I was persistent; the frying took a bit of time, but I was persistent.  Thankfully the bringing of everything together was quick, but I was persistent anyway.  I texted SH and told her to come over to taste it, and was prepared to be persistent, but she readily agreed.

Push your way through cooking this one.  You won’t regret your persistence.  It’s peppery, flavorful, and oh-so-good with steaming hot white rice.  Can’t you just taste it in this picture?

Black Pepper Tofu
Serves 4

1 cup canola oil
1 ¾ lb. firm tofu, cut into 1″ cubes
½ cup cornstarch

2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
3 tbsp. finely chopped ginger
8 small shallots, thinly sliced
12 cloves garlic, crushed
4 jalapenos, stemmed and thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, cut into slices

2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
5 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoons molasses
16 small scallions, cut into 1 ¼″ pieces
Cooked white rice, for serving

Heat oil in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. Toss tofu and cornstarch in a bowl until evenly coated. Fry tofu until browned all over, about 3 minutes. Drain and set aside; discard oil, and wipe skillet clean.

Return skillet to medium heat canola and sesame oil. Add ginger, shallots, garlic, jalapeno and bell pepper; cook until soft, about 8 minutes.

While ginger garlic mixture is cooking, mix together black pepper, soy sauce, sugar and molasses.  Add to skillet with ginger garlic mixture.  Sauce will immediately begin to concentrate and thicken.  Add tofu to skillet; cook, stirring, until warmed through, about 2 minutes. Stir in scallions; serve over rice.

Printable recipe
Sometimes persistence does pay off.

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