Tuesday is potluck night in one of my circles. Last Tuesday I made fried tofu in spicy sauce. Normally this isn’t the sort of thing I’d bring to a potluck. We regularly have two vegetarians in our group, one of whom is allergic to soybeans and the other of which is allergic to peppers. This doesn’t really mix with my crazy homesick craving for spicy food. So I had to wait for a night when I thought they’d miss. Although I saved out some plain fried tofu just in case.
In my culinary nostalgia, my biggest quest is to try to figure out how to recreate familiar flavor spaces. I think I just miss a few key ingredients that my mom used to cook with that I just don’t know about because I didn’t pay enough attention. One thing I’ve been anxious to try is fermented black soybean. So I thought I’d follow through my spicy sauce schema and just add fermented black soybean and see if it tasted more like home. Then, because it’s me cooking, I changed everything at the last minute and went completely off script in a way that made sense at the time.
First, I sought hot bean paste. This is something I’ve been trying to find for years. My last container had come from San Diego before the liquid ban for air travel. Every time I look for it in Albany, no one has heard of it. I spent what seemed like at least an hour at the Asian Market and asked everyone who worked there. I’ve done this before. No one knows what it is. Some people will point to peanut butter. Some people will point to miso. Finally I just gave up and walked up and down every aisle a few times before I noticed where it was.
However I couldn’t find the dry fermented soybean that I wanted. I found an obscure pre-made sauce (I can’t even find anything to link to) that combined fermented black soybean with chilis. I bought that instead because you can’t go wrong with more chilis. Hot bean paste also has fermented soybean, so I suppose I’m really just trying to tweak the proportions.
With the hard part over, I prepared the sauce. I diced a bunch of green onion, garlic, and ginger. I’m not one for measuring; I mostly eyeball. I used all the green onion in the before-chopping picture, only half the ginger (I froze the rest), and went for more garlic. The proportions are probably clearer in the post-chopping picture. We planted the green onion root outside in hopes of establishing some plants to harvest from later.
In making the sauce, I used hot bean paste, toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, and ground black pepper. I used roughly the proportions on the left (that’s a teaspoon in the picture). Then I added the vegetables the black bean sauce and just a bit more hot bean paste because it didn’t taste spicy enough.
Finally, since the vegetarians couldn’t eat the dish anyways, I thought I’d add some diced bacon as seasoning. We buy a share of pig from a local farmer and had just received it, so the bacon was very tempting. People here cook with beef a lot so I assume it is OK to cook with pork. If people cared, everyone would bring vegetarian or stick with fish and fowl. I feel like I have to justify myself because I think it’s just a bit weird to bring food that isn’t vegan or at least vegetarian to a potluck. But here I am, hopping on the ‘everyone else is doing it so why can’t I’ bandwagon. Perhaps I am growing selfish.
I added the mixed sauce into the pan I’d fried the bacon in and stirred the dice bacon back into the sauce. I cooked it for a short amount of time to soften the texture of the green onion and ginger then added the tofu and stopped cooking I decided the weather was too hot so instead of serving it hot with rice, I chilled it and served it with lettuce.
I think fermented black bean is definitely one of my missing ingredients. Once you’re dealing with fermented beans, I don’t know if the principle holds as with other spices that fresh and dried taste slightly different. But when I run out of the sauce, I need to try to find dried. I’m glad I tried the sauce although I am now convinced that there are other things I’m missing. Obviously things aren’t all missing from the same dish, it’s just that there are clearly spices I ought to use in various dishes and combinations that I’m not thinking of.
When discussing this at the potluck, a friend said she uses allspice a lot to enhance pepper flavor. I never think to use allspice except as a mulling spice or in similar sweet pumpkin-pie flavor spaces. But maybe next time I stir-fry I will to add allspice and see how that goes.