I’m not really a salad person. Leafy greens just don’t turn my crank. I prefer to treat the lettuces and kales of the world as accents or companion pieces to something infinitely crunchier, tastier, and definitely not healthier. Give me a salad that is more pasta than vegetable, more cheese than leafy green. Give me a salad with a fried garnish. It’s still technically a salad, it just has more going for it. I do wish I was the kind of person that simply ate for fuel. It would make my late-night-snacking dilemmas a whole lot simpler and a lot less… counterproductive? But that’s just not me. So for me and people like me, there’s this Salt and Pepper Tofu with Mango Salad.
This Salt and Pepper Tofu is the easiest fried snack you’ll ever make. Well, it is if you’ve never deep-fried dough that comes from a tube. And if you have, that’s cool – this is a judgment-free zone. But this Salt and Pepper Tofu is only marginally more difficult than dunking Pillsbury Crescent Rolls into hot oil. All that you have to do is cube some tofu, add a whack of cornstarch, a little salt, a lot of pepper, and toss the heck out of everything. Then you introduce the tofu to a couple of inches of hot oil in a wok, and you’re less than 10 minutes away from a very crispy snack.
Yes, that is all that is required to make arguably the best part of this salad. But all the components of this dish are no-brainers. The forbidden rice, in spite of being forbidden, cooks up a lot like regular (dull?) rice. And the mango salad is nothing more than careful chopping, followed by some less than careful tossing. The chopping can give you marathon vibes, but just think how sharp your julienne will be at the end of it. Mine is still questionable, but I’m closer because of this salad and salads like it.
Other than the salad, rice, and tofu, all that remains is the dressing for the mango salad. And I say the dressing is for the salad but I think it’s perfectly acceptable for your entire bowl. The dressing is comprised of lime juice, garlic, demerara sugar, and fish sauce. Yes, I know it might seem strange to include fish sauce in a recipe that is otherwise vegetarian. But you really can’t get the funk of fish sauce anywhere but the source. If you are a vegetarian, you can sub the fish sauce with soy sauce and maybe add a bit of miso to boost the umami. Or you could use MSG if you’re willing to go there. And for the record – there is nothing wrong with going there. I go there often.
Truth be told the only tricky part of this recipe is getting everything into the bowl while each component is at its optimal temperature. The rice should be fluffy and steaming, the salad cool and crisp, and the tofu slightly only cooler than burn-your-tongue hot. In order to achieve this, I recommend tackling the salad first. Slice all the fruit and veg, and whisk together the dressing. But keep the two separate until the last moment. There is nothing worse than a soggy salad.
Next, put on your rice and let it do it’s thing while you prep the tofu. The tofu goes by fast. From tossing to frying, it all goes down in about 15 minutes. And once the tofu is out of the oil and draining, you are on the clock. Fried food that has been hanging around too long is the worst kind of let down. So make sure you have all your ducks in a row before you even fire up a burner.
And once the tofu is fried, your bowl should be easy to assemble, garnish, and positively drown in dressing. I mean, you don’t have to do that last part. But I can promise you, I sure did. So that’s everything you need to know about this Salt and Pepper Tofu with Mango Salad and Forbidden Rice. Satisfying doesn’t even begin to cover what this dish is. Go get it!
Salt and Pepper Tofu with Mango Salad and Forbidden Rice
- large wok
- 1 ataulfo mango julienne
- 1 red bell pepper julienne
- 1 shallot halved and sliced thin
- 2-3 red chilis sliced thin
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 lime juiced
- 1 tsp sesame oil
Salt and Pepper Tofu
- 1 brick extra firm tofu cut into cubes
- 1 tbsp whole green peppercorns
- ½ cup cornstarch
- 1 tsp salt divided
- neutral oil for frying
For the Bowl
- 3 cups forbidden rice cooked according to the package's direction.
- 2 scallions sliced thin
- ¼ cup fresh cilantro coarsely chopped
For the Salad
- Place the mango, pepper, shallots, and chili in a large bowl and toss to evenly disperse all of the ingredients and set aside.
- Place the garlic, fish sauce, honey, lime juice, and sesame oil in a bowl and whisk to combine. Refrigerate the salad and dressing until ready to serve.
For the Tofu
- Once the salad is made, put your rice on and start prepping your tofu.
- Pour the peppercorns into a spice mill or a mortar and pestle and crush until a coarse powder forms.
- In a small bowl, whisk to combine half of the salt and the cornstarch. Place the tofu in a large bowl and add the cornstarch mixture. Add a tablespoon of the pepper and toss until the tofu is thoroughly coated.
- Pour 2" inches of neutral oil into a large wok and heat until shimmering. If you have a thermometer handy, aim for 360°F. But if you don't you can eyeball it. Add a piece of tofu and if the oil immediately reacts, you're good to go.
- Fry the tofu until golden on all sides. About 7 minutes. Transfer the fried tofu to a cooling rack placed on top of a baking sheet. Whisk to combine the remaining salt and pepper and sprinkle the mixture over the freshly fried tofu.
For the Bowls
- Divide the rice across 4 bowls. Add the dressing to the mango salad and toss to coat. Spoon the salad onto the rice and add the salt and pepper tofu. Garnish with scallions and cilantro.