Five-Spiced Tofu w/Steamed Eggplant & Cardamom PassataThe authors of the Nopi cookbook -- Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully -- came to Brooklyn recently to promote it. Again, I eagerly sat and listened and bought the book (I’m an Ottolenghi groupie, after all). The two of them acknowledged how this London restaurant and this cookbook are not like Ottolenghi’s other restaurants and books. It’s fancier. It’s pricier. It’s complex.

So let’s try a recipe, shall we?

The “Five-Spiced Tofu with Steamed Eggplant and Cardamom Passata,” (recipe below), shows us how this is a recipe for a restaurant kitchen.

Five-Spiced Tofu with Steamed Eggplant and Cardamom Passata
Nopi, Yotam Ottlenghi and Ramael Scully
Serves 4

Steamed Eggplant:
2 large eggplants (2 1/4 lbs.), cut in half lengthwise, then widthwise, then each section cut into 1 1/4-inch wedges
1 1/2 tsp. sunflower oil
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
2-inch piece of ginger (1 1/2 oz.), peeled and finely grated
5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
7 Tbsp. light soy sauce
1/4 cup Shaoxing rice wine
1/3 cup rice vinegar
3 1/2 Tbsp. mirin
1 tsp. superfine sugar
coarse sea salt

Tomato Cardamom Passata:
1 Tbsp. sunflower oil
3 shallots (1 1/4 oz.), finely diced
4 cloves garlic
1 1/2-inch piece of finger (1 oz.), peeled and finely grated
2 stalks lemongrass, tough outer leaves and stalks removed and discarded; finely chopped
2 red chiles, seeded and finely chopped
2 tsp. ground cardamom
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 1/2 cups tomato passata
1 Tbsp. superfine sugar

7 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
7 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp. ground white pepper
1 Tbsp. Chinese five-spice powder
14 oz. firm tofu, cut into 1-inch squares
sunflower oil, for frying

To Serve:
2 Tbsp. black sesame seeds or toasted white sesame seeds (optional)
2 small scallions, green and white parts thinly sliced

Place the eggplant in a colander with 1 tsp. of salt. Mix well and leave to drain in a sink or bowl for an hour. Shake well, pat dry, then transfer to a steaming pan and steam for 10 to 15 minutes, or until cooked through. Remove from the heat. Place a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, with the sunflower oil and the sesame oil. Add the ginger and garlic and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes, until fragrant. Add the soy sauce, Shaoxing rice wine, rice vinegar, mirin, sugar, and about 7 Tbsp. of water. Increase the heat, bring to a boil, then reduce to medium-low again to simmer gently for 10 to 12 minutes, until the liquid has reduced by half. Stir in the eggplant, along with 1/4 tsp. of salt, and continue to simmer for another 8 to 10 minutes, until the sauce is shiny and the eggplant is glazed and starting to break down. Set aside somewhere warm until ready to use.

Place the sunflower oil for the passata in a medium saucepan for which you have a lid, and place over medium-low heat. Add the shallots, garlic, and ginger and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, until soft and fragrant. Add the lemongrass and chile and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the cardamom and tomato paste and cook for another 2 minutes. Pour in the passata, stir well, and  bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for about 12 minutes, until the sauce is thick. Add the sugar along with 1 1/2 tsp. of salt, and cook for a final 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside somewhere warm, until ready to serve.

For the tofu, grind 1 Tbsp. of salt with a mortar and pestle until smooth. Transfer to a large bowl with the flour, cornstarch, black and white peppers, and the five-spice and mix well. Just before serving, toss the tofu in the flour mixture until all sides are coated. Pour enough oil into a medium sauté pan so that it rises 3/4 inch up the sides. Place over high heat and, when hot, add the tofu in batches. Fry for 2 to 3 minutes, until golden brown. Use a slotted spoon to remove the tofu to a paper towel-line colander, sprinkle lightly with salt, and continue with the remaining tofu.

To serve, spoon the eggplant into shallow bowls or plates. Place the tofu on top, followed by the passata. Sprinkle over the sesame seeds and scallions and serve at once.

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Let’s call this recipe “fussy.” One pot steams the eggplant. Another pan sautes the eggplant and its sauce. Another pot cooks the rice. Another pot cooks the passata. Another pot fries the tofu. Are you exhausted yet? There’s a lot of mise-en-place here, a long list of ingredients.

To “reduce by half,” the eggplant’s sauce needed longer than 12 minutes and needed more heat. After the salting and the sauce reduction (soy sauce), the eggplant was salty, but in a good way, I suppose.

Now let’s discuss the “passata.” It’s a British thing and I dealt with it for the first time, here. I was wary, so I just pureed canned tomatoes, and this seemed fine. The book’s chefs make sure to exploit tomato sauce into a soapy flavored mixture, thanks to the inclusion of lemongrass and cardamom. This is not necessarily bad.

And now the tofu effort. Coating the tofu cubes in the spiced flour mixture, then frying them, provided an identifiable and appreciated quality.

I steamed rice, atop which I assembled all the food exercises here. The flavor combos work, in small portions. Lemongrass, ginger, shallots: are they too much? Test yourself, test your audience, enjoy the book, and try not to be intimidated. It’s like you need to get the joke

Eggplant (2 1/4 lbs.) = $5.83
Shallots (3) = $1.59
Red Chiles (2) = .06¢
Tomato Sauce (2 1/2 cups) = $2.24
Tofu (14 oz.) = $1.70

PREP TIME: pull this together in an hour (if you have a restaurant kitchen and staff!)
fried tofu saves the day from too much lemongrass, ginger, and shallots

Allow me to exhale. Next time, I will decompress with the “Pumpkin Spice Almond Flour Muffins,” from Dishing Up the Dirt. Come back to my site next week to enjoy these with me.