I learn all kinds of things in the kitchen every time I prepare a dish. My most recently acquired nugget of knowledge is that sambal oelek (a hot chili sauce with seeds) and sizzling cast iron pans should never, ever make contact with each other. Here’s what happened: I coated some tofu cubes in the chili sauce and placed them onto a sizzling hot pan to grill. The seeds then immediately began to pop and fly out at me at a pretty impressive clip. Once the popping stopped after a few seconds, the burst chili seeds then released their fiery fumes, causing me to have a mini-coughing fit.
Despite this brief (and probably hilarious) incident, I adore sambal oelek. Originating from Indonesia, this chili sauce is similar to srircaha, only a little bit chunkier and without the garlic and spices. It releases its heat after a few seconds on the tongue, which allows you to really enjoy the chili flavor with whatever other flavors you’ve combined it with before you feel the pleasant burn. It goes very well with quesadillas, or added to salsa for a little extra bite of heat, and it’s also amazing when used in tofu dishes. Here I’ve paired it with a peanut butter sauce, because despite the odd sound of this combo, these two things taste amazing together.
for the tofu
1 block of firm tofu
1 TB peanut oil
1 TB sambal oelek
for the sauce
1/4 cup mirin
1 TB soy sauce
1 TB toasted sesame oil
1/4 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp brown sugar
2 TB peanut butter
sesame seeds, chopped peanuts and sliced scallions, to serve
Cube the tofu up, then assemble all of the pieces back together into it original block shape. Press the tofu, then toss it with the peanut oil and set aside.Heat a cast-iron pan over medium heat. While it is heating up, prepare your sauce by whisking together all of the first six sauce ingredients. Set aside.
Place the tofu cubes into the pan and grill until they are brown and crispy, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, wait a few minutes for the pan to cool a bit, then and add in the sambal oelek while everything is till warm, then stir until well-coated.
Pour the sauce into small serving bowls and garnish with the sesame seeds, chopped peanuts and scallions. Serve immediately with the tofu cubes.