Sunday, August 9, 2009
I chose tau pok as the first of my everyday singaporean dish because it's one of my hawker center favorites. It is fried tofu stuffed with green leaf lettuce, bean sprouts and thin slices of cucumber, and then grilled. What makes the dish is the sauce - it's like a savory version of molasses. To eat it, you can sprinkle the sauce over the tofu or you can choose to dip it in the sauce. Either way, this simple dish entrances the taste buds. You have the crispiness of the tofu and the cool crunch of the cucumbers mingling with the funky taste of the shrimp paste which makes the sauce. It's a great side dish or a snack in the afternoon.
The version of shrimp paste used is called petis udang in Malay or hae ko in Hokkien. You can get it in Asian supermarkets. The ingredients - fresh prawn extract, sugar, flour and salt. It is a very thick paste and usually needs to be thinned, in this case with tamarind juice. The petis udang can vary among brands, so you should taste it as you mix the ingredients. Grilling is preferred but you can also cook it over the stove on a grill pan like I did. I chose not to stuff the tofu before grilling like the hawkers do it because I don't have the dexterity to prevent the filling from spilling out. I also used an English cucumber. Since it has to be sliced thinly, it's best that the seeds are as small as possible.
Tau pok with rojak sauce
10 medium sized fried tofu
½ cup bean sprouts, blanched
½ cup English cucumber, thinly sliced
3 green lettuce leaves
3 tablespoons petis udang (hae ko)
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
3 dried chilies, de-seeded and blended/pounded or 1 tablespoon of sambal oelek
¾ cup tamarind juice
juice of 1 lime
3 tablespoon roasted peanut, roughly crushed
1. Place the tofu on paper towels and let them dry as much as possible. Put the tofu on a dry grill pan over medium high heat. Press down the tofu with a grill press or, if like me, you don't have one, use a glass container over a paper towel. Turn over after 3-4 minutes, or until golden brown. Let the tofu cool a little, then use a paring knife to slit three sides of the tofu.
2. Tear the green leaf lettuce into smaller pieces, put it in a tofu with together with a few bean sprouts and slices of cucumber. Repeat with all the tofu.
3. To make the sauce, combine all the sauce ingredients together, except the peanuts, until the sugar is well incorporated. You can heat the sauce to make sure the sugar is dissolved. Taste - see if you need to add additional sugar or lime juice. Add the peanuts just before serving.