Mapo Tofu

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The Pasta Man is a young lawyer from Washington, DC. He cooks a lot of pasta and other things, too. He blogs at www.thepastamanblog.com.

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Do you know mapo tofu? This classic Chinese meal uses an unusual (to the American palette) combo of ground beef and tofu for an incredibly interesting effect. The combination of the meaty beef and the silken tofu creates a fascinating textural contrast, and the beef combined with fermented ingredients creates an incredibly savory mouth-feel. Plus, the famous Sichuan peppercorns are used to generate a distinctive, spicy-but-vaguely-numbing effect.

This recipe requires a few unusual ingredients that you may need to go online to purchase, but once you do, it’s totally worth it: my version comes together in a matter of minutes for an incredibly flavorful, unusual weeknight dinner. You can even add some hearty greens for what is truly a one-pot meal.

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Mapo Tofu Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 lb silken tofu
  • ¼ lb ground pork or beef
  • 4 scallions, sliced
  • 2 tbl preserved Chinese vegetable or fermented black beans
  • 1 bunch hearty greens, sliced (optional)
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled
  • ¼ cup chicken broth
  • 2 tbl Sichuan peppercorns (half ground, half not)
  • 2 dried red chilis
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 2 tsp water
  • 4 tsp fermented Chinese bean paste
  • 4 tsp Chinese rice wine
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 4 tsp chili oil
  • 1 tbl brown sugar

Instructions

  1. Blend the garlic, ginger and preserved vegetable (or black beans) in the Magic Bullet.
  2. Add vegetable oil, chilis and whole Sichuan peppercorns to pan over medium-high heat. Cook two minutes until sizzling, maybe beginning to brown. Drain peppercorns and discard.
  3. Raise heat to high until oil lightly smokes. Add ground meat and cook, stirring, for one minute.
  4. Add garlic, ginger, scallion whites, and yucai and cook until fragrant.
  5. Add chili-bean paste, wine, soy sauce, brown sugar, and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium. If using the hearty greens, add them and cook until wilted, about four minutes.
  6. Combine cornstarch and cold water in a small bowl and mix with a fork until homogenous. Pour in cornstarch mixture and cook for 30 seconds until thickened.
  7. Lower heat to medium, add tofu and carefully fold in, being careful not to break it up too much. Let tofu get hot for a few minutes.
  8. Stir in chili oil, scallion greens, and ground peppercorns and serve.

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