Szechuan Pepper Tofu Bowl

szechuan pepper tofu bowl 4

I’m eagerly counting down the days until 2 a.m. means soulfully gazing at my navel – or more accurately, at my fingers on my laptop. As much as I try not to, I’ve been staring off into empty space and thinking a lot about, oh, you know, LIFE! – the kind of ridiculous big thinking that requires both capital letters and exclamation points.

I write down a sentence and an hour goes by. I turn back to the study books. No use at this point though, I’ve burnt out. Can’t force myself to review material I’ve learned before, none of sticks. It’s hard to admit that weakness, and to think of how little that matters anymore. I tell myself that wearing a suit and heels for 14-hour workdays isn’t part of whatever I hope I’m ultimately going to do. I’d feel a lot less irresponsible if I could say all of these feelings are the result of some deep thinking and reflecting, that’s not truly true. It is sort of because I never wear heels, and I think I’d be a poseur if I did. More importantly, it is almost wholly because I’m tired from trying to keep up with a life that I’ve mentally checked out of years ago. No matter how many times I spin it in my mind, I can’t find a reason in pursuing those old goals. So here I am, at the end of something, and I don’t know what’s next.

The only conclusion that all of that thinking has brought me to is this: no perfect right answer exists. We can only hope it will work out. I’ve gone around and around in circles – literally, pacing around my apartment – and mentally too, and I always come back to that same place. It’s juvenile to presume there is an surefire approach, to have the arrogance. And frankly, you shouldn’t believe any person, any book or blog or teacher that tells you otherwise. Sitting or meditating or traveling to some place where the people look a lot like me (small and brown-skinned) is not going to give you that either. No, there’s just living, not the perfect, glossy version where everyone’s eternally grateful and never has a bad hair day, but real stuff: the mistakes and bad ideas, the ways we seek beauty, how we alleviate our loneliness and put food on the table – that is what informs us. In that we find the shimmering elusive thing that we were seeking, because it was inside of us all along.

I promise I’ll be back, very soon. And I’m trying very hard NOT to add another “I don’t know” because, really, that seems to be the current running theme in my life.

Tofu on board 2
So this recipe is really all about the sauce. I’ve been experimenting for a few months with stir-fry sauce based on Szechuan pepper, and I think this one’s worth sharing. It’s peppery, garlicy, and full of umami and big flavors.

Szechuan Pepper Tofu Bowl

For Tofu
12 oz. tofu, cut into ½ inch by 1 inch pieces
2.5 tbsp cornstarch
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp sesame seed oil
Paper towels/clean tea towel to drain

For the pepper sauce
1 tbsp black peppercorns*
1.5 tbsp Szechuan peppercorns*
1 tsp. olive oil
4-5 garlic cloves, finely minced (about 2 tbsp minced)
1.5 inch piece ginger, grated (about 1 generous tbsp, grated)
1 tsp or so of cornstarch, leftover from the tofu
1/2 cup good-tasting, low-sodium broth
¼ cup light/white soy sauce  (I used this, cheaper here)
2 tbsp dark soy sauce, preferably tamari
2 tbsp water
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
3 tbsp chives, chopped
1 tbsp sriracha
To serve
1 lb steamed broccoli (or other vegetable)
1 cup cooked brown or white jasmine rice

Toss the tofu cubes with the cornstarch. Save the leftover cornstarch in the bowl for the sauce. Heat wok/pan on medium high heat for one minute. Add the sesame and olive oils, and fry the tofu for 1 – 2 minutes per longer side, or until the tofu is golden-brown. Save the oil in the wok/pan used for the tofu. Drain on paper towels/clean tea towel
Grind the Szechuan and black peppercorns. Add the teaspoon of olive oil to the same wok/pan used for the tofu. Re-heat to medium heat, add garlic, ginger, and fry for 2 minutes, or until lightly brown. Add the Szechuan and black peppers, fry for another minute.
While the garlic/ginger is cooking, combine the light and dark soy sauces, broth, water in the cornstarch bowl. Whisk out any cornstarch lumps. Add this to wok of garlic-pepper. Bring to a gentle boil, and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce should be thick enough to coat your spoon. Add the chopped chives, and if using, sriracha.
Heat the tofu and vegetables with the sauce for a minute or two in the wok, and serve with rice. Serve with additional sriracha and/or soy sauce.

*if you’re using pre-ground, you’ll have to reduce the amount. I think after grinding, the whole peppercorns yielded about 4 teaspoons of ground stuff.


szechuan pepper tofu bowl 2

  1. dixya,

    oh dear..this thing called LIFE is so damn COMPLICATED…but why? I hope you will sort things out and find whatever makes you happy because it is ultimate what matters :)

  2. I was just saying to Tim this past week that one of the strangest seasons of life is in that waiting period where something is going to end and something else is going to begin but you’re not quite out of one and into the other; you’re just waiting to be. It’s kind of annoying to me and my NOOOOOWWWW mentality and I am regularly taking a step back to be like, oh, yeah, this is what happens in real life.

    • Joyti,

      I’m definitely the same way. :)

  3. lena,

    I absolutely love this post, and your honesty.

  4. Joyti. I hear you loud and clear. Sometimes, not knowing is so crazy scary. It’s like the path is blur and you don’t know where the destination is, but try to soak in the present – I can say that because a few months ago, I just wanted to up and shift to any country that wasn’t Argentina, thinking that a relocation plan to some other economically more stable country would solve the frustration and uncertainty I was feeling in my own life, and relationship. But I’ve realized that, where I am now, is the best way to start changing how I feel – whether it’s about the financial situation, or my relationship, or my self-esteem. And today, I’m just enjoying the here and the now.

    I hope you take and enjoy the break you deserve; and mostly, I hope you come back refreshed and ready to put those sentences on paper/the blog again. Because you write beautifully, and it’s be a pity if you didn’t.

    sending love,

  5. the vegetarians in my household would definitely appreciate me making this dish.. saving the recipe to recreate in my kitchen. love it!

  6. I love the flavours you have going on here! This looks delicious. And I totally agree with you – that feeling of having nothing left to write or no more creative energy. It will come back though! :)

  7. These are the perfect flavors, and the perfect bowl. My husband likes to joke about my love of eating things in a bowl. I don’t mind, I thinks food just tastes better that way.
    This is a beautiful recipe. Thank you for sharing.

    • Joyti,

      It’s so much more efficient and easy to eat out of a bowl, I think :)

  8. Emma,

    Your clean, flavourful, spicy dish looks so delicious. And I love Szechuan flavours more than any other spice I think. It’s hard to get around here though so when I do find it, I’m stocking up.

    Yes, that sort of limbo between old and new life is excruciating sometimes, but you have so much ahead of you :)

  9. Nice, all the goodies on one bowl, just the way I like it!
    Good luck with everything, it will be all right!

    ela h.

  10. Deb,

    Oh Joyti what a spirited post! Life is jammed full of change, the uncertain can be overwhelming. Creative energy is impossible to capture as it arrives from within and seems to have no relationship to the structure of our lives. The only thing I know is that it will return and we will wait for you. And perhaps make a bowl of Szechuan Pepper Tofu you have graciously shared with us.

  11. Don’t stop writing!I wish you all the best for whatever path you tread, hopefully its turns the best ever, whatever you choose.
    I am loving that sauce soo much.It looks like a really balanced recipe!
    I don’t eat much of tofu but I wanna make this with paneer and broccoli (two of my fav things ever)
    Thank you my friend your support and kindness always. Hope to read you again, soon!

  12. Jessicah Jin,

    Haha, I came here looking for a study break… i empathize so much. so very very much…
    the funny thing is that I remember meeting you that first day of orientation (there was that LWR lunch session thing) and i can’t figure out if it feels like forever ago or just last week. Alas, if only I could build a time machine and tell myself all the things I’m feeling now.
    Oh well… I’m sure it’ll get better :p

    • Joyti,

      Only a week and a half to go, right? If I don’t spontaneously combust :/

  13. That looks amazing … stunning pictures as always and so very inviting

  14. mjskit,

    You’re right – this IS all about the sauce. What a unique and delicious looking sauce! I discovered Szechuan peppercorns last summer and have been using them ever since. Can’t wait to give the sauce and whole dish a try. What a great way to eat tofu!

  15. You kno what, every single spicy szechuan style dish made me drolling!!!
    i used to add some chopped beef on it, but i think this vegan version is nice too..

  16. Monet,

    Your words are full of so much wisdom…and your honesty is refreshing. Thank you for sharing this beautiful bowl, but more importantly, thank you for sharing your beautiful heart.

  17. I sense the struggle from you and I hope you are doing well Joyti. I used to think way too much, trying to find a “perfect” path to take before starting anything, but like you said, I found that no perfect right answer exists. I got busier with kids, my own life, and family life and I simply couldn’t even have time to “think”. LOL. Best of luck to you. xoxo And this tofu! YUM! I love that you tried this sauce for a while before you shared it. We appreciate that you shared this recipe!

  18. Good luck lovely! I don’t think that a lot of people do enough thinking so well done for you :D This tofu dish looks like it sings with flavour :D

  19. Joanne,

    This world definitely is full of many many uncertainties…but that’s part of the beauty of it, I guess, even though it can be aggravating. Good luck!

    I am always looking for the next best stir fry sauce…and this seems like it is IT.

  20. years ago, I learned the word Svaha–in this form, attributed to a Native American tribe, meaning that place after the flash of lightning, but before the roll of thunder. a place of not knowing, a place between two places, a place of boundless possibilities. I have been in that Svaha place at several points in my life and I have felt a little less uncomfortable when I think about the uncertainty and potential in that light.

    totally grounded, however, is this Szechuan pepper sauce–I want to try this. looks incredible.
    whatever is next—keep cooking!

  21. P,

    I love tofu bowls, especially ones swimming in curry :)! The broccoli florets in the first picture look like the tops of tiny trees—so cute!!!

  22. Love that bowl of goodness!! Hope and wish things flow into your way and makes it easier to pick the right ones. Good luck!!!

  23. I love tofu, but you are right…the star of this recipe is the sauce. Can’t wait to give it a try.
    Have a wonderful weekend, Joyti.

  24. “In that we find the shimmering elusive thing that we were seeking, because it was inside of us all along.” Yes. xoxo

  25. Best of luck with your new direction and whatever adventures arise! Sounds like an exciting time. And, this looks like an exciting dish. I love these flavors, and the sauce is perfect for tofu.

  26. Juliana,

    Joyti, this tofu bowl sure looks delicious, the sauce just sound delicious!
    Life is full of surprises, just try to enjoy the moment and I am sure things will sort it out.
    Take are my dear and have a peaceful weekend :D

  27. Happy 2015! Hope your year is off to a great start. Wanted to let you know they I made this tonight. Used bok Choy for the vegetable, but as you said, it’s all about the sauce. That’s one killer sauce! I can see an appetizer of just the fried tofu and that sauce. Thanks for such an awesome recipe!

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