A while ago I saw this caramelized black pepper chicken from Food and Wine by Charles Phan. I was, needless to say, totally obsessed with the idea. So, I created this vegan caramelized black pepper tofu and noodles! While I have obviously never tasted the original version, this vegan version is one of the best things I have ever tasted. It is sweet, but because of the spice from the black pepper, the salt from the soy sauce and the acid from the vinegar, it is so well balanced. Like true perfection.
My little sister said to me the other day that no matter what she does, she has never liked tofu. Then I was thinking about what I could make her to change her mind. This right here, my friends, …I think this is it! I baked the tofu until it is super firm and crisp. This is my ideal tofu candidate for anything saucy. I find frying the tofu and then tossing in a sauce takes away the crunch. Not this way, and it is way healthier!
You can also use any kind of noodles for this, so using rice noodles makes this totally gluten-free! It is also easy, and fast. Using lots of pantry ingredients you may already have on hand. You can add veggies to this if you want, or use rice instead of noodles. This recipe may sound shockingly simple, but there is nothing simple about these flavors!
Using brown sugar and maple syrup to essentially make a caramel first, then adding the other flavors is brilliant really. It is truly like nothing I’ve ever had before. The flavors are Asian of course and I always love how Asian food flavors hit every one of your taste buds. This is the first time I’ve used black pepper as the spice in an Asian inspired dish, but I have fallen in love with it!
Baked crispy tofu and noodles tossed in an Asian-inspired caramelized black pepper sauce.
- 1 Block(15oz.) Extra firm tofu, drained and pressed*
- 1 Tablespoon Olive oil
- Pinch of Salt
- 8 Ounces Asian noodles, I used rice noodles, but soba or wide noodles will do.
- 1/3 Cup Soy sauce, regular or low sodium
- 1/3 Cup Vegetable broth
- 1/4 Cup Rice wine vinegar
- 4 Cloves Garlic, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon Fresh ginger, grated
- 2 teaspoons Cornstarch
- 1/4 Cup Brown sugar
- 1/4 Cup Maple syrup
- 2 Tablespoons Water
- 1 teaspoon Black pepper
- 2 Small red Chinese or Arbol chilies, dried(optional)
- Thai basil for garnish(optional)
Drain and press the tofu. Once the tofu is ready, preheat the oven to 425 degrees(F).
Cut the tofu into cubes, then place on a large sheet pan. Drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Toss to coat the tofu then spread the tofu cubes out in a single layer.
Bake for 10 minutes, flip the tofu then bake for another 10-15 minutes or until the tofu is brown and crispy on the outside.
While the tofu is baking, cook the noodles according to package directions, then drain and set aside.
As the tofu and noodles cook, you can make the sauce. Whisk together the soy sauce, vegetable broth, rice wine vinegar, garlic, ginger and cornstarch. Set aside.
Once the tofu and noodles are done, in a large non-stick or cast iron skillet, heat the brown sugar, maple syrup and water on medium high. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to medium low.
Whisk until brown sugar has dissolved, then simmer, reducing heat as needed until the sugar and maple syrup have thickened slightly. 3-5 minutes.
Now stir in the black pepper and the chilies if using.
Add the tofu to the skillet, and toss to coat the tofu in the caramel. Then add the noodles and toss to coat.
Next, pour the sauce you made into the skillet and toss to combine everything. Let simmer for a few more minutes until the sauce thickens. The cornstarch will help the sauce thicken, but you will need to make sure the sauce cooks for a few minutes to make that happen.
Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve immediately topped with Thai basil if desired.
*If you need more information about pressing tofu, check out my TOFU COOKING GUIDE!
This recipe was inspired by Charles Phan's Caramelized Black Pepper Chicken.