Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Where Asians Fear to Tread...

Zuccca "Kabocha" con Tofu Fermentato Piccante
Spicy Kabocha Squash with Fermented Tofu


I like to think that I have tried quite a lot, food-wise, in my 48 years and also, I suppose I pride myself a little in being relatively fearless when it comes to trying new things... but, WOW! There is no way I was ready for just how intense the flavor of fermented tofu can be!

This stuff is not for the faint of heart- it could be used as a weapon! Or possibly to fuel heavy machinery or something... it makes almost everything else I have ever known pale in comparison! Have you ever tried it? Do you think you are ready for it?


Let me try to begin to describe this... "food". Imagine one of those strong-smelling French cheeses... the way the flavor is really intense, but definitely much more enjoyable than the fragrance. The way that it tastes really nice in small doses- with some nice, neutral bread to go with it and maybe some kind of refreshing fruit to cleanse the palate.

This is very similar to that. Just maybe 10 times stronger than the strongest tasting cheese you have ever tried. I am describing it that way, because I do not want to exaggerate. Seriously.


I bought a quarter of a small Kabocha pumpkin on Saturday- and used half of it this evening- I would say about 3 cupfuls when diced. This was enough for 2 portions of this dish- although it was so intense tasting, that I did only eat one! haha- good for my diet!

Otherwise, all I needed was 2 cupfuls of rice, 1 shallot, a half of a chili pepper, about 1" of fresh ginger, 1 teaspoon of tamarind paste, 1 teaspoon of palm sugar, 7-8 cubes of fermented tofu and plenty of fresh cilantro.

I thought the tofu would go to season the otherwise sweet and rather bland squash- but little did I know, it did all of that and more! But I don#t want this to start coming across as too negative an experience- so let me say this:

For our "Western" palates, the only way this can be eaten and "enjoyed" at all, is for it to take over the role of seasoning... the WHOLE dish! No salt, no soy, no fish sauce- none of those other seasonings we are used to adding to our Asian dishes. It is THAT intense!

Also- thanks to the palm sugar- which I luckily just happened to have at home and which was my salvation- I was able to bring some much needed balance into the dish. And this is how I did it...


I cut the squash into bite-sized chunks, the shallot into relatively thick slices, I finely chopped the ginger and the chili and the tofu was already diced.

You can buy this stuff at most Asian supermarkets- it comes in jars and is sometimes preserved in brine, sometimes in oil, sometimes with added chili or other aromas... but obviously- I can not read those labels! So unless you can- you will have to be as brave as I was if you want to dare to do this! But it IS quite a DARE at that! This really is not a dish for everybody!


I began by frying the squash, ginger, chili and the stalks of cilantro in a little peanut oil for just a couple of minutes.


I then added the tamarind paste and enough boiling water to be able to dissolve it thoroughly.


I let it simmer away for 5 minutes with the lid on and then added plenty of cilantro and the shallot.


And I then tasted that tofu for the first time- just to see how strong the flavor actually was... and immediately knew that SOMETHING needed to be added! And that something was palm sugar this evening!


I added about 1/3rd of one of those little disks, mashed it down into the juices and then topped them up with more boiling water until the squash was just covered. I popped the lid back on and let it continue simmering gently for another 5-6 minutes.


Once the squash was cooked through, I added the tofu, which is really quite soft, and just let it simmer in the juices and come up to temperature before serving. It has a consistency, I suppose, similar to a soft French cheese like Brie. So- no stirring! Or that stuff will disintegrate!


I served it up with plenty of white rice and plenty of cilantro- it needed something plain and something fresh to bring some balance back into the picture- because otherwise it would have been too salty and tangy by far!


Amazingly, although still being an acquired taste for sure (and I am not sure that I HAVE acquired it!), the combination with the bland rice, the sweet squash and the fresh cilantro made it much more pleasant than I at first feared.

But at the same time... I think you get the picture by now! You may want to try one of my other experiments out first, rather than beginning with this one! 'Nuff said!

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