When I mentioned in my LA post that we had perfected making our own version of Mapo Tofu at home, Shayna asked for our recipe. Well, if you cook like my husband does, you don’t necessarily cook from a recipe. So, this weekend, and a month and a half later, sorry Shayna, it was time to get out the pen and paper and measuring spoons and transcribe our version of mapo tofu once and for all, so it could claim internet fame! I have written a few recipes before, and I am trying to perfect the art. And let me tell you, it is an art form. This goes hand in hand with developing recipes, which is another art form. I will never take a printed recipe for granted again. There are recipe testers out there, people’s whose jobs it is to test a recipe before it goes into a cook book or in the food section of a newspaper. I’ll take that job. I love tweaking!
So, first of all you have to decide who your audience is. I am guessing the people reading my blog are foodies and have done their fair share of cooking. I am also assuming that Shayna, who asked for the recipe, must know what the heck mapo tofu is. (I will explain that in a minute!) If she is interested in the recipe, she must have cooked Chinese food before. Again, I am just guessing this all. So, Shayna, please comment about my assumptions and let me know once you have made the recipe. Another point is that everyone has different taste. I tend to make a recipe the way it reads first to see my results, and then tweak it to my liking. Recipes are really are just guidelines. Everyone stirs differently, everyone’s idea of medium heat is different & everyone has different equipment. I can now look at a recipe & say, “Hey, I don’t think that is going to work. I should adjust this right away.” The more you cook, the better you get at this.
So, the burning question, “What the heck is this Mapo Tofu anyways?” Well, I will start by telling you this. It was an acquired taste for me, as were a lot of the Chinese foods my husband ate and prepared. Now congee, xian fan tuan, and mapo tofu are some of my favorite foods. What all these dishes have in common is that they are peasant food. It is cheap food that uses very little meat and then layers other inexpensive ingredients to add bulk and sometimes a very pungent spice to add interest.
Traditionally mapo tofu is a Sichuan dish that uses ground pork, soft tofu, fermented bean paste, Sichuan peppercorns and a chili infused peanut oil.
When I finally did acquire a taste for this dish, whenever we got it in a restaurant it was always oily, heavy and way too spicy. So we started playing around with our own version, which is not authentic, by any stretch if the imagination. We do not use Sichuan peppercorns or chiles or pork for that matter. Our impetus was not to recreate the dish authentically; our goal was to make a version that suited out tastes for a lighter, more modern, less aggressively spicy and less oily dish.
Our version also happens to be vegan for some reason, maybe our vegan friends. We have served it as an appetizer at parties hosted by vegan friends by hollowing out what we call “puffy tofu” & putting a little rice, a little mapo tofu & a cilantro sprig. It was well received, to say the least, and saved the day, as we had not perfected any other vegan recipes.
I am going to take this opportunity to push buying a rice cooker if you don’t own one. We did not have one for a very long time. I called my husband a “bad Chinese’ for not owning one! I do not know how to cook rice without one. Why would you want to? It can be such a hassle. With a rice cooker, you measure, dump it in & push a button. We have a tiny Salton rice cooker that makes 3 cups of cooked rice that we got at Bed Bath & Beyond for $14.99! It works, I love it! Who needs a Zojirushi with “fuzzy logic”, whatever that is, for $150? Paying that much for a rice cooker in my mind is “fuzzy logic”!
So, here is the recipe. I hope you enjoy it for what it has become, not what it was supposed to be. Feel free to tweak it to YOUR liking, add more broad bean paste for a more intense flavor and spiciness, sub out the tofu for ground chicken. Don’t worry, I won’t be offended. Make it your own.
Timing wise, start the rice in your rice cooker. Once that pops, in about 20 minutes, start the Mapo Tofu, which will only take about 10 minutes. In that time, the rice can rest and continue absorbing or whatever it does in those completely necessary extra ten post-pop minutes.
1 cup fried tofu, cut into ¼ dice
7 oz extra firm tofu, drained
½ cup chopped straw mushrooms
1 ½ Tbl broad bean paste with chili (you can add more for a more intense flavor & spiciness)
1 Tbl chopped ginger
2 Tbl chopped garlic
2/3 cup veggie stock
1 Tbl oil, canola, veggie or light flavored olive oil (told you it wasn’t traditional)
1 tsp sugar
½ Tbl soy
½ Tbl rice wine vinegar
½ Tbl rice wine
½ Tbl sesame oil
(We call the 4 ingredients above “the usual suspects” as they are in all Chinese food)
“The slurry” – 1Tbl tapioca starch or corn starch mixed with ¼ cup water
Chopped scallions or cilantro for garnish
Heat cast iron pan or wok on medium high heat
Add the oil and then the broad bean paste, sauté for 15 seconds
Some of it will stick to the bottom of the wok. This browning is good, just make sure it doesn’t burn too much. You want to develop flavor, just not burnt flavor!
Add garlic and ginger, sauté until translucent, about 30 seconds
Add hard tofu and stir, sauté for about 2 minutes
Add stock, the “usual suspects”, straw mushrooms and extra firm tofu
Stir this all to incorporate, being careful not to break up the tofu too much.
You don’t want to obliterate it, you want to have larger pieces of it in the finished product, but this is all to your preference, of course.
Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer.
Add 1 Tbl of “the slurry” (You will have to mix it first as it will have separated and settled.)
Cook until this thickens, about 15 seconds or until the mixture returns to a simmer.
Check for desired consistency. If you want the sauce a little thicker, add another tablespoon of “the slurry” & incorporate. We usually add 2 tablespoons total.
Once desired consistency is achieved, remove from heat, break up tofu to desired size.
Serve over rice, garnish with cilantro or scallions.