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Connoisseurs of Chinese food adore the salty, intense, and very distinctive taste of fermented black beans. Unbeknownst to man, these are actually black soybeans that have been inoculated with a mold, then left to ferment in a salt-brine solution for about six months. Fermented black soybeans are thought to be the earliest condiment made of soy, predating both soy sauce and miso. In this dish, I've combined the black beans with other traditional Chinese seasonings--garlic, ginger, and orange peel--to create a thick paste. This paste darkens the tofu and coats the surface with flavor, while leaving the inside of each chunk just as mild mannered as tofu can be. The contrast of taste and color is quite appealing. Sliced Brussels sprouts work surprisingly well in this Asian context. There is little to no sauce, so I usually serve the mixture on its own rather than over rice. Do serve it with chopsticks. I don't know why, but the dish tastes better that way.
- 2-inch chunk fresh ginger, trimmed and quartered
- 4 large cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 1/2 tablespoons fermented black beans (see note)
- 1 tablespoon grated dried orange peel (see note)
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon peanut oil
- 1 cup water
- 1/4 cup dry sherry
- about 1 1/2 tablespoons shoyu
- 1-pound block extra-firm or firm tofu, drained, pressed, and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
- 10 ounces Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
- 2 large carrots, peeled and thinly sliced on the diagonal
With the food processor motor running, pop the ginger, garlic, and black beans through the feed tube. Process until finely chopped. Remove the cover, scrape down the sides of the work bowl, and add the orange peel and red pepper flakes. Pulse a few times to mix well.
Heat the oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-heat. Add the black bean mixture and sauté, stirring constantly, for 10 seconds. Blend in the water, sherry, and shoyu, and bring to a boil. Add the tofu and stir gently to coat it with the sauce. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Scatter the Brussels sprouts and carrots on top of the tofu. Cover and cook over medium-high heat until the vegetables are crisp-tender, 3 to 5 minutes. If the mixture becomes dry before the vegetables are cooked, stir in a few additional tablespoons of water. Add shoyu to taste, if needed.
You'll find fermented black beans (also known as preserved beans and salted beans) in most Asian groceries, usually in small plastic bags. If you happen upon the Pearl River Bridge brand in a yellow box, these are considered best. Some fermented black beans are seasoned with ginger and orange peel, which is fine for this recipe. Once opened, refrigerate the beans in a tightly sealed jar and they will last indefinitely.
You may substitute 2 to 3 teaspoons of freshly grated orange zest for the dried orange peel; stir it in at the end.
Recipe reprinted by permission of Chronicle. All rights reserved.
nutrition information per serving
238 calories; 8g total fat; 0mg cholesterol; 601mg sodium; 23g carbohydrates; 6g fiber; 18g protein
These nutrition facts are calculated according to the ingredients listed in this recipe. Any substitutions will change these facts. Although we strive for accuracy, please note that food manufacturers occasionally change their food formulas, which could affect the calculations as shown.
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