15 MINUTE RECIPE / VEGAN / GLUTEN-FREE / DAIRY-FREE
February 7, 2021
The sensational Ma-po tofu is the pride of the Sichuan cuisine, renowned for hot and spicy dishes. This is an easy and authentic recipe to make at home. We often have it for lunch and dinner, in vegan version or with a little bit of ground beef or pork. The delicate texture, rich flavor and a big buzz on the tongue will keep you captivated. OMG my mouth is watering while I’m writing this!!!
Fresh tofu is the main ingredient. A semi-firm variety is ideal but firm is fine too (the firmness will be stated on the package). Buy your tofu from the chilled food section. Read the label. Nothing should be listed except water, non-GMO soy bean and a single gelling agent. I know I sound pedantic; perhaps it is due to rather traumatic encounters recently with some dry and tasteless white blocks served to me as “tofu” at more than one trendy fusion restaurants!
The ingredient that gives the tongue the buzzing sensation is Sichuan pepper. What does it taste like? I couldn’t have described it better than this Wikipedia entry, “they produce a strange, tingling, buzzing, numbing sensation that is something like the effect of carbonated drinks or of a mild electrical current (touching the terminals of a nine-volt battery to the tongue).” It is a signature spice for Sichuan cuisine (hence the name Sichuan pepper), and you will find it in most stores.
Another key ingredients is Pi-Xian chili bean sauce (郫县豆瓣), a fermented board bean paste with a rich flavor, produced only in the Pi-Xian (Pi county) area due to an unique combinatioocal produce, water, soil and climate (making a good bean paste is very much like making a good wine). Pi-xian bean paste can be found in most Chinese stores.
If you have trouble getting Pi-xian chili bean sauce, a good alternative is Lee Kum Kee chili bean sauce Toban Djan (李锦记豆瓣酱), which is widely available in mainstream supermarkets. The manufacturer’s website also features a Mapo Tofu recipe, however I noticed the recipe doesn’t use Sichuan pepper. Personally I can’t imagine cooking Mapo tofu without it, however like so many popular dishes loved and cooked by so many people, there are going to be a lot of versions!
HOME-STYLE MAPO TOFU
VEGAN / DAIRY-FREE / GLUTEN-FREE
MAKE 4 servings PREPARATION 5 minutes COOKING 10 minutes
- 450g fresh semi-firm tofu, cut into bite-size about 2cm cubes
- 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 1 tbsp Sichuan peppercorn
- 1 tbsp Pi-Xian bean paste or Lee Kum Kee chili bean sauce
- 1 tbsp oil
- 2 spring onions, finely chopped
- Heat a wok on medium heat, add the oil and sauté the Sichuan pepper until fragrant, about 15 seconds. With a spatula, carefully push the pepper to one side of the wok to separate them from the oil before pushing them out of the wok and discard.
- With the remaining oil, sauté the garlic and the chili bean sauce for about 15 seconds, turn the heat to high immediately before adding the tofu. Toss for 30 seconds to coat the tofu with the sauce. Add a cup of hot water and bring it back to boil. Cover the wok, turn down the heat a little and let boil gently for 5 minutes. Stir occasionally.
- Turn up the heat, open the lid, let the liquid boil until the remaining liquid is getting thick, about 1 minutes. Stir occasionally. Turn off the heat, sprinkle the spring onions, transfer to a serving plate.