It was a whim. A last-minute whim and a decision that took all of a split-second to make. What I really intended was to sauté the spinach leaves with a little Kacep Manis then use them as a bed for the fried tofu and fish fillets. I was already taking out the bottle of Kecap Manis from the fridge when my eyes went past the small jar of pesto that I made a couple of days ago. I said, “Why not?” And because pesto is much milder than Kacap Manis, I decided that a little more kick was in order — two pieces of chili picante. That was how I discovered that pesto is not an enemy of tofu.
Please note that when I make pesto, I never use pine nuts primarily because they are very expensive in the Philippines. I use either dry-roasted pili or cashew nuts. And instead of anchovies, I go with tuyo (dried salted herring) in oil. I also use fresh basil from my backyard. I am not very sure if the traditional pesto with pine nuts, anchovies and grated parmesan cheese will taste as good with tofu.
Crispy fish fillets and tofu with pesto and chilies
- Crush, peel and finely mince the garlic.
- Peel and cut the onion into small wedges.
- Cut off the tops of the chilis and slice into rings about 1/4-inch thick.
- Peel both pieces of ginger and grate finely. Divide into two portions.
- Pick the spinach leaves; discard the stalks.
- Cut the fish fillets into two-inch cubes. Season with salt and pepper, add one portion of the grated ginger and set aside.
- Cut the tofu into about the same size.
- Heat the cooking oil in a wok or frying pan until it starts to smoke. Fry the tofu until golden. Drain on paper towels and set aside.
- Dredge the fish cubes in flour and deep fry until crisp and golden. You may have to do this in batches depending on the size of your cookware. Just make sure that the pan is not overcrowded so that the fish cubes are able to move freely in the hot oil. Drain on paper towels and keep warm.
- Pour off the cooking oil until only about a tablespoonful remains. Saute the chilis, garlic and ginger for about 30 seconds. Add the onions and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the spinach leaves, spoon the pesto over and cook, tossing, just until the spinach leaves start to wilt. Return the tofu and fish fillets to the pan, toss well to coat them with some of the pesto. Cook for a minute or so or until the fish and tofu are reheated.