Mapo Tofu

As promised, here’s the second of my two posts about cooking Chinese from Diana Kwan’s book “The Chinese Takeout Cookbook.” I’ll be giving a copy away in the coming weeks, so look for the contest. I’m still deciding what to do with the giveaway — anyone have any ideas?

If you missed my first post about Kung Pao Chicken, check it out.

Ok, so to the recipe. I love Mapo Tofu — we ate a lot of it in China and this is the third time I’ve made it at home. This was by far the best version — spicy, savory, hot. All the things you want in the dish. I recommend using the firmest tofu you can get, otherwise it crumbles too easily.

I also made some dumplings — well, not exactly. I heated some frozen dumplings filled with leeks and pork from the Asian market. They were okay. If you have time and the inclination, I recommend making dumplings. Its not that hard and tastes much better.

The thing I like most about Mapo Tofu is the interesting mix of textures — firm tofu that’s just warm; spicy sauce and crisp crumbled pork. Delicious.

Mapo Tofu
Serves 4 to 5 as part of a multi-course meal, or 2 to 3 as the main entree

1 tablespoon fermented black beans (or substitute black bean sauce)
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons chili bean paste
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper

2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
½ pound ground pork or beef
2 leeks, white parts thinly sliced at an angle
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 block soft or medium-firm tofu (about 1 pound), drained and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon cornstarch, mixed with 2 tablespoons water
1 scallion, green part chopped for garnish

Prepare the sauce: Rinse the black beans to remove any grit. In a small bowl, mash the black beans with the back of a spoon. Combine the black beans with the chicken stock, chili bean paste, rice wine, sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar, and Sichuan pepper and set aside.

Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat until a bead of water sizzles and evaporates on contact. Add the peanut oil and swirl to coat the base and sides. Add the pork and stir-fry until crispy and starting to brown but not yet dry, about 2 minutes, breaking up the pork with a spatula. Reduce the heat to medium, then add leeks, garlic, and ginger and stir-fry until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Pour in the sauce and bring the liquid to a boil, the reduce to a simmer. The liquid should now be a rich red color. Gently add the tofu cubes, being careful to not move them around too much or else they will break up. Allow the sauce to simmer for about 2 to 3 minutes so the tofu can cook and absorb the the sauce.

Carefully push the tofu to the sides and create a small well in the middle. Stir in the cornstarch mixture in the center. Allow the liquid to simmer for another minute, until the sauce has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Transfer to a deep plate or wide bowl, sprinkle scallions on top, and serve hot.

Recipe courtesy “The Chinese Takeout Cookbook” by Diana Kwan.

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