Last weekend I went to Sun Wah for a lecture on tofu hosted by the Chicago Food Roundtable. Later, I kid you not, that same day I see this article in the current issue of Food and Wine.
It’s time to show some love to this most important and good-for-you food. Tofu.
I’ve had a problem eating it for years. It’s been a lot like broccoli for me. But taking a page from Mr. Steingarten, I’ve found a way to enjoy it. Don’t worry, I will show you other ways in the future.
I finally worked up the nerve to make the Chinese classic mapo dofu a/ka/ ma po tofu.
As I read through this Chinese cook book I’ve had for decades it finally clicked. There’s an anecdote prior to the recipe about how restaurants in China have you pay by the gram, or maybe the ounce, for mapo dofu. You order so many grams of tofu and so many grams of pork or beef to be cooked together and presented. I substituted the animal with a meat substitute and enjoyed it thoroughly. If you don’t like meat analogs, leave it out. You will still have a fine dish.
This does take a bit of time, but still doable for a weeknight meal where you have some time.
Pock-Marked Ma's Bean Curd a/k/a ma po doufu a/k/a ma po tofu
Adapted from Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook
3-inch piece fresh ginger
1/2 pound Gimmelean or other meat substitute
5 T soy sauce (separated as 2 T and then 3 T)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
8 cloves of garlic
1 block of fresh tofu (approximately 1 lb)
6 tablespoons peanut oil
1 ½ t. hot chili oil
1 t. chili paste, like Sriacha
1 t granulated sugar
3 T soy sauce
2 t. of cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons ground, roasted Szechwan peppercorns
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 T. of rice wine vinegar
Peel the ginger, and then chop it into teeny, tiny pieces. When you think you are there, chop those teeny, tiny pieces down in size by at least half.
Clean the scallions, then chop them, both the white part and about one-third of the green, into pieces slightly larger than the ginger.
Take 1 tablespoon of the minced ginger and about 1 scallion’s worth of chopped scallion and mix into meat analog. Then add 2 T of soy sauce and sesame oil. Mix well and set aside for a half hour.
Meanwhile, peel garlic, chop coarsely then mix with the remainder of the ginger. You are trying to create a ginger-garlic pulp out of this combo. This is a pain in the neck, and takes some time but it is worth it. You’ll know it’s ready when you can’t tell where the garlic starts and the ginger ends.
Make ½ in. cubes of tofu.
Mix the cornstarch into the meat substitute just before you start cooking.
Heat pan on a medium high for a minute or two. You should place the palm of your hand over the pan and when it feels quite warm, your pan is ready.
Now add oil to the very warm pan and it is hot enough when you see just a bit of smoke.
Add to your sizzling pan your garlic-ginger pulp and stir constantly so it doesn’t stick or burn. You are building layers of distinct flavor this way, so next add the chili paste and hot chili oil. Continue to stir constantly, now throw in the meat substitute and use a wooden spoon or a spatula to break it up into small bits. Cook until done and a tad bit crispy.
Bean curd gets thrown into your sizzling pan of fragrant garlic-ginger pulp with crispy meat substitute. Don’t forget to toss in the rest of the scallions and stir constantly for about 30 seconds.
Next add the sugar, I know it sounds weird but at moderately heat it helps with browning as well as a flavor boost.
Add ½ c. of water and the remaining 3 T of soy sauce to the pan. Let it come to a light boil. After the contents come to a boil continue cooking for 2 minutes. Add the Szechwan peppercorns.
Now spoon into the pan the sesame oil and stir to incorporate. Finally, sprinkle the vinegar into the pan and stir until the slightly sharp smell hits your nose.
Serve with rice.