Thursday, August 28, 2008

Tahu goreng - fried tofu in peanut sauce

This is one of my favorite Javanese recipes. It's quick and easy to make and has a great distinctively Indonesian flavor.

You'll need:
1 pound medium to extra firm tofu. (You can get a lot of different textures from fried tofu depending on the firmness you start with and how long you fry it. I like mine a bit dried out and chewy but I think I'm in the minority. You definitely don't want the airy store bought pre-fried tofu. That's a different ingredient entirely and is good for different sorts of recipes.)
1/2 cup oil for shallow frying
1 large handful bean sprouts
1 clove garlic, sliced
1/2 green hot chili, sliced (something small and very hot is typical for Java)
1 teaspoon sugar
4 Tablespoons sweet soy sauce (a.k.a. kecap manis)
2 Tablespoons water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 Tablespoons crunchy peanut butter
2 scallions, sliced thin
3 Tablespoons crispy fried onions


Those crispy fried onions are a traditional Javanese condiment that's pretty similar to a traditional Ashkenazi Jewish condiment that goes with chopped liver. I think that's fried in schmaltz instead of peanut oil. If my mom's reads this, maybe she'll clarify in the comments.

You'll need:
1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 large pinch of salt
1/2 cup oil for shallow frying

1. Toss the onion with the salt and spread on a paper towel over a draining rack. Let sit for five minutes.

2. Meanwhile, Heat the oil in a medium pan (cast iron preferably) until the surface shimmers and a test piece of onion sizzles but doesn't burn. Turn heat to medium.

3. Roll up the paper towel and squeeze gently to get a bit more water out of the onions and to get some of the salt to stick to the paper towel.

4. Add the onion to the pan in a single layer. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the onions are a golden brown.

5. Remove onions to a new paper towel spread over the rack. Let sit for 15 minutes. They'll darken a little and get crispier.

6. Save the oil for deep frying the tofu.


OK, now back to the main recipe.

1. Start some rice cooking. Short grain and kind of sticky would be appropriate. Sushi rice is a fair approximation if you don't rinse it.

2. Cut the tofu into inch-thick slices. Pat dry and maybe squeeze out some of the moisture. Heat oil the same way as for the onions and fry at least until light brown on both sides. I prefer to go a little longer, but it's up to you. Remove to a paper towel on a draining rack and set aside.

3. Put a medium pot of water on the boil.

4. In a mortar, crush the garlic, chili and sugar until enough juice has been released to dissolve the sugar. Add the soy sauce, water, lemon juice and peanut butter and stir until fairly smooth.

5. When the water has boiled add the bean sprouts. Wait until the water has returned to a boil, no more than 30 seconds. You just want a quick blanch. Remove bean sprouts.

6. Cut the tofu into cubes. Or don't if you don't want to.

7. For each serving, put the rice in a bowl, then the tofu, cover with the bean sprouts, spoon over the sauce and garnish with the scallions and onions. You can serve hot or at room temperature, but remember that room temperature in Java is around 85 degrees.

(both recipes are adapted from The Indonesian Kitchen by Copeland Marks and Mintari Soeharjo)


In each bite you can get soft rice, chewy tofu, crunchy bean sprouts and scallions and the crisp onions. The tofu gains a savory flavor from the frying, the sauce is sweet and earthy, the onions salty and the vegetables...um...herbaceous? Anyway, there's an enormous amount going on for such a simple dish. And if you don't care about that, it's just really tasty.

It occurs to me that this dish has kid-friendly flavors and is pretty easy to pack (rice, tofu and vegetables in one bowl, sauce in another and a small bag of onions). I'll bet it makes a mighty impressive elementary school lunch. (It probably makes an impressive work lunch too, but my coworkers have long ceased inquiring about all but the most aromatic of what I've brought in.) If any mothers want to try it, do please report back on how it goes.

1 comment:

rina said...

Too bad for your coworkers, Bill. You know I would inquire!