His recipe column in The Guardian recently had some experimental fusion dishes under the moniker “Yotam Ottolenghi’s fusion feast”, so what did I do: I combined elements of two of these dishes…
In one of these recipes, he did a mash-up of dishes from Italy and China by combining a Sicilian aubergine caponata and a Szechuan mapo tofu. Ottolenghi states that they are mashed together “in a union so wrong, it’s right” and I wholeheartedly agree. This dish is fantastic and has everything that you wish for. Smokey oven-roasted aubergine with a sweet, sour, and spicy dressing served with silken tofu, coriander, spring onions, fresh ginger, and sesame seeds.
Given the origin of mapo tofu, my fusion element was adding the Szechuan pepper-based “numbing” chili oil from the Cabbage with Ginger Cream recipe that I made ahead (the rest of that dish was astonishing as well). The fried elements resulted in a vibrant, multilayered taste, and the heat only comes as a pleasantly subtle afterburn sensation. As expected, it paired brilliantly with the silken tofu, but with the caponata as well. The chili oil is super versatile and found its way on many other dishes over the next 2 weeks.
The recipe (serves 6)
As usual with Ottolenghi recipes, I could not find everything in both Asian and regular supermarkets, so I had to wing it with some ingredients and adjusted some quantities to taste. In short, some more ginger and pine nuts found their way into the dish, and I used Japanese instead of Chinese rice wine, of which I used a bit more to taste. Less fresh chilies in favor of the Szechuan chili oil in which dried Aleppo chilies (another Ottolenghi staple ingredient also known as pul biber), replaced the red bell pepper and chili flakes.
One warning: if you are charring the fresh chilies in the dry frying pan, do be aware that they may “explode”: their skins may burst with a loud pop to release the built-up pressure inside the chili pepper.
Personally, next time, I would cut down on the raisins as they ended up being rather sweet and overpowering if you got several in one bite. The slices of silken tofu are very fragile and can disintegrate into unappetizing blobs if you are not gentle enough when plating, so do be careful when plating up the dish.
For the caponata
- 2 medium aubergines, trimmed and cut into 1½cm / ½” cubes
- 8 tbsp sunflower oil, divided
- Salt, plus flaked sea salt, to finish
- 1 small celery stick, finely chopped into ½cm / ¼” cubes
- 4 tbsp pine nuts, very well toasted
- 10 ripe cherry tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 30g / 1oz piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely julienned
- 5 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
- 4 tsp mixed black and white sesame seeds, toasted
- 2 tbsp raisins
- 4 tbsp soy sauce
- 8 tbsp rice wine
- 3½ tbsp rice vinegar
- 2½ tbsp maple syrup
- 3 large mild red chilies, 2 left whole, 1 deseeded and finely sliced, to serve (I used the Szechuan chili oil to serve, so I just used 1 chili in the caponata marinade and also didn’t use the fresh chili to decorate)
- 600g / 21oz silken tofu, drained and cut into about 6cm x 1½cm / 2¼ x ½” slices. (I bought 300g/ 10½oz packages, which I sliced lengthwise in 6 portions each)
- 1 tbsp coriander leaves, finely chopped
- Heat the oven to 210℃ / 410℉.
- Toss the aubergines in 75ml / 5 tbsp of the sunflower oil and a third of a teaspoon of salt and spread out on a large baking tray (about 40x30cm / 16×12″) lined with greaseproof paper. Roast for 15 minutes, then stir in the celery and roast for 12-15 minutes more, until the aubergine is golden brown. Leave to cool, then transfer to a large bowl with the pine nuts, tomatoes and ¾ each of the julienned ginger, spring onions and sesame seeds.
- In the meantime, put the raisins, soy sauce, rice wine, rice vinegar, and maple syrup in a small saucepan on medium-high heat, cook until bubbling, then set aside to soak for at least 10 minutes.
- Put the whole chilies in a very hot, dry pan on a high heat and cook for about 9 minutes, turning a few times, until well charred all over. Leave to cool slightly, then roughly chop, removing the membranes and seeds if you prefer less heat. Add to the aubergine bowl, along with the soaked raisin mixture.
- Heat the remaining 3 tbsp of sunflower oil in a small saucepan on medium-high heat until bubbling, then pour this over the aubergine mixture. Add 1 tbsp of water, gently mix everything and leave to marinate for at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight.
- Divide the silken tofu slices between 6 shallow bowls and sprinkle generously with flaked sea salt. Spoon the caponata next to the tofu, and drizzle about 1 tbsp of its liquid over the whole dish. Top with the remaining ginger, spring onions, sesame seeds, sliced chili and coriander, and serve at room temperature.
For the chili oil
- 10 tbsp sunflower oil, divided
- 1 banana shallot, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
- 1cm / ½” piece ginger, peeled and finely grated
- 1 whole star anise
- ½ fresh red chili, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp red bell pepper flakes (I used the same amount of dried Aleppo peppers)
- 1 tsp chili flakes (I used the same amount of dried Aleppo peppers)
- 1½ tsp Szechuan peppercorns, roughly crushed
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1½ tsp tomato paste
- 1 tsp each black and white sesame seeds
- Heat 2 tbsp of the sunflower oil in a small saucepan on medium-high heat. Add the next 9 ingredients (including the salt), turn down the heat to medium and fry very gently for 5 minutes, often stirring, until the shallot is soft.
- Add the tomato paste and both types of sesame seeds, cook for another 2 minutes, then stir in the remaining sunflower oil.
- Reduce the heat to low and simmer very gently for 20 minutes – if the oil starts to bubble at all, just take it off the heat for a minute – then leave to cool and infuse for at least 1 hour.
- If transferred to a (sterilized) jar with a lid, it should keep for about 2 weeks in your fridge.