This aromatic Thai garlic and black pepper stir fry leans in big with the veg when tofu, shiitake mushrooms, red bell pepper, and cabbage make this a fast and healthy meatless meal.
When I worked in Los Angeles, my office on Larchmont was right next door to the famed Chan Dara restaurant, where their late-night television ads beckoned with a flourish of open arms, “Welcome to Chan Darrrraaaa.” Since the establishment was right next door, I ordered take-out lunch at least once a week, and this Thai spicy garlic and black pepper with tofu was my order every single time. But once we’d moved from L.A., that version of my favorite dish was nearly impossible to find at any other Thai restaurant. The hunt for my fave dish became an obsession until I finally discovered it in of all places, a tiny Thai spot in my hometown. Imagine that!
What sets this Thai garlic and black pepper dish apart is its abundance of cabbage stir-fried with caramelized garlic that’s seasoned in a spicy black pepper-infused, brown sugar-sweetened fish sauce. Black pepper is used to provide the spicy heat. Often served with chicken, I like mine best with baked or fried tofu and lots of cilantro, and add shiitake mushrooms and red bell pepper for even more veg-healthy bites.
What’s in Thai Garlic and Black Pepper Tofu
This Thai stir-fry comes together quick. I like it with the crunch of red bell pepper that complements the cabbage and add mushrooms for a more meaty bite.
- Fried or baked tofu—or you can use any other protein (chicken, pork, shrimp) of your choice.
- Green cabbage
- Shiitake mushrooms
- Red bell pepper
- Canola or other neutral oil
- Fish sauce—always use a good quality fish sauce like Red Boat
- Brown sugar
- Freshly ground black pepper
- White rice for serving
How to Make This Thai Spicy Garlic Stir-Fry
First, bake or fry the tofu. I love the flavor of fried tofu, but baking it creates nearly the same crisped texture without any of the mess.
While the tofu bakes, prep all of your ingredients and cook the rice. There aren’t many steps to this dish so have all of your ingredients ready to roll. Chop the vegetables in the same size for even cooking and equal representation in each bite.
See: How to Cook Rice Perfectly
Mix the fish sauce, black pepper, and brown sugar. Some people complain that the salty umami of fish sauce tastes funky. If that’s been your experience, always choose a high-quality brand fish sauce like Red Boat and make sure it hasn’t been lingering in the pantry for too long. And use freshly cracked black pepper for the most flavor.
Start the Stir Fry
Use a neutral-flavored oil to stir-fry the garlic. Garlic can quickly go from fragrant to frazzled and bitter if you don’t keep a watchful eye. Realize it’s done cooking about 20 seconds before you think it is, and you’ll avoid burning it.
Stir in the sliced mushrooms, red bell pepper, and cabbage to the pan. The goal here is for the vegetables to become bright and just tender, not limp and browned or overcooked.
Season With Sauce
Add the fish sauce mixture with the tofu to the pan. Adding the liquid now pulls all of the browned bits aka flavor from the pan and infuses flavor into the tofu as the vegetables finish cooking. Cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed.
Stir in plenty of cilantro and season with more black pepper heat if you like. Adding cilantro as the last step provides a layer of freshness to this heady and aromatic dish.
Substiutions and Additions
- Instead of tofu, try chicken, shrimp, pork, or beef, or seitan
- Use brown cremini mushrooms instead of shiitake mushrooms, or leave them out altogether
- Try this dish with snow peas or frozen peas
- Try other bell peppers of the rainbow instead of red
- Instead of green cabbage, use napa cabbage
- Use granulated sugar instead of brown sugar
- Use soy sauce instead of fish sauce, or make it fully vegetarian by using tamari
What to Serve With Spicy Garlic and Black Pepper Tofu
- Perfectly Cooked White Rice
- Sweet and Sour Asian Pickled Cucumbers
- Pad Thai
- Thai Basil Chicken (Pad Krapow Gai)
- Stuffed Artichokes with Thai Shrimp Salad
- Thai Chicken Larb Lettuce Wraps
More Thai Recipes to Try
- Thai Coconut Curry With Shrimp
- Turkey Meatballs In Thai Coconut Red Curry Sauce
- Thai Basil Chicken (Pad Krapow Gai)
- Slow Cooker Thai Chicken Soup
- Thai Coconut Chicken and Rice
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