Chichi's Chinese: Silken Tofu with Chili Oil

Chichi Wang

This is about the simplest thing you can do with silken tofu, and also one of the most delicious.

The tofu is heated, and good quality soy sauce, chili oil, and sesame oil are poured over. To garnish, minced pickles, scallions and cilantro. It's that easy. The only cooking involved is heating up the tofu, which you do by placing the whole block of tofu in a pot of boiling water.

You want to use these pickles, made from the stems of certain varieties of mustard greens. Look for "zha cai" in the Chinese grocery store. (The Chinese also pickle the leafy part of the greens, which are often used in stir-fries with pork.) The stems are salted, pressed, and dried before being rubbed with chili powder and left to ferment, so that the resulting pickle is salty, sour, and spicy with a crisp yet tender texture.

The preparation works best with silken tofu because it is so pudding-like. It lends itself to being treated as a canvas for other ingredients. You could, I suppose, cut the block up into squares, but I like the unevenness of scooping up slabs of the tofu.

Every time I make this I remember how good it is. Things just come together in a palate of bold colors and flavors. There's the heat of the chili oil, countered by the cooling cilantro; the richness of the sesame oil, cut through with sour pickles.

And I always use the best quality soy sauce I have on hand, because with a dish this simple, there's not much you can do in the way of disguise.