The day I cooked the Sichuan bang bang chicken for us omnivores in the family, I prepared this bean sprouts and tofu salad with bang bang sauce for Sam.
Yes, it’s the same sauce which I divided into two portions. It’s my little trick for cooking both vegetarian and non-vegetarian in one go. Prepare a common base, cook meat and vegetables separately then serve them, still separately, with that common base. In this case, the bang bang sauce.
Why is this dish called a salad? Wasn’t it sauteed the way beans sprouts are usually cooked in the Philippines? No, this isn’t a sauteed dish. It is a salad which, by definition, is a dish where the ingredients, cooked or uncooked, are tossed together and no further cooking is required thereafter. In this bean sprouts and tofu salad with bang bang sauce, one ingredient — the tofu — was cooked while the other — the bean sprouts — were blanched.
Firm tofu was cut into small cubes and fried until crisp and golden. It’s for texture. Vegetarian dishes are more appetizing when there is plenty of texture. If you want a softer tofu to go into this dish, you can texturize it by cooking it like the the Japanese agedashi tofu.
Why are the bean sprouts blanched when they can be eaten raw? For safety reasons. We don’t buy bean sprouts in sealed bags; they are sold by gram. In the market, they are exposed, people touch them and… well, I blanch them to get rid of as much bacteria as I can. If you’re more trusting with the source of your bean sprouts, you can skip the blanching. Just rinse thoroughly and eat them.
Sesame paste is sold in jars. I bought mine in Chinatown. Tahini is a good substitute. Peanut butter will work too but the flavor and aroma will be different.
Chili oil is also sold in jars. It’s that condiment you find beside the soy sauce in Chinese restaurants. Roasted chilies soaked in oil. We use Lee Kum Kee at home but there are other brands available. You’ll need both the oil and the bits of chilies that come with it.
- 1/4 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
- 1 clove garlic peeled
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 tablespoon sesame paste
- 1/4 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon black vinegar
- 1/2 tablespoon chili oil (including the bits of chili), plus more to garnish
- 1 to 2 cups mung bean sprouts
- 1/2 cup small cubes of fried tofu
- toasted sesame seeds
- sliced scallions
Start by making the sauce so that it's ready by the time the beans sprouts have been prepped and the tofu has been fried. Using a mortar and pestle, pound the Sichuan peppercorns until crushed.
Add the garlic to the Sichuan peppercorns. Sprinkle in the sugar. Pound until the mixture is a thick paste.
Add the sesame paste little by little, stirring as you add.
Pour in the soy sauce, black vinegar and chili oil (with the bits of chili). Stir thoroughly until smooth. Taste and add more soy sauce, sugar or vinegar until you get the taste that makes you go ooohhhh wow!
Rinse the bean sprouts several times.
Boil about three cups of water in a shallow pan. Blanch the bean sprouts for 30 seconds then scoop out and plunge in ice water. Drain well.
Transfer the bean sprouts to a mixing bowl. Add the tofu. Add two tablespoons of the prepared sauce. Toss. Taste and add more sauce, as needed.
To serve, place the beans sprouts and tofu salad with bang bang sauce on a plate. Sprinkle with sliced scallions and toasted sesame seeds. Optionally, drizzle with more chili oil .