Sichuan cooking: Ma po tofu
I first fell in love with Sichuan food when I lived in Boston (some of my posts on Chowhound.com about Sichuan Garden here, and Anise here and here). Locally, I loved Miu's in Tempe (pictures here; now closed) and had a great lunch on one visit last year to Szechwan Palace at the COFCO Chinese Cultural Center. After discovering Fuschia Dunlop's Land of Plenty cookbook, now I can enjoy Sichuan at home too. Ma po tofu ("pock-marked woman's tofu") is one of my favorite dishes, and her version is excellent.
Tips: Silken tofu is the best for this, although I used firm in the dish above. The tofu is meant to be swimming in a hot and spicy chile oil, though you can cut down the oil in the recipe. My favorite chile bean paste is the first one with the blue and yellow label, although the Lee Kum Kee brand is very good and easier to find. I just picked up the one in the can, but haven't tried it yet.
I like it fiery so I add the optional fresh-ground chile peppers.
I buy Penzey's Szechuan Peppercorns because they are high quality and fragrant. Some of the bags I've bought at the Asian market have been old or mostly seeds. You want peppercorns that make your tongue tingle and give this dish its distinctive ma la ("spicy and numbing"). I toast them in a dry pan, grind in a spice grinder, and then put them through a fine sieve.
Fermented/salted black beans and garlic chives from the garden. I rinse the beans before using as they can be too salty.
Pock-Marked Mother Chen's Bean Curd (ma po dou fu). Adapted from "Land of Plenty".
Serves 2 as a main course with rice
1 block of tofu (about a pound)
4 baby leeks/spring onions/scallions/garlic chives
1/2 cup of peanut oil
6 ounces of ground beef or pork
2 ½ tablespoons Sichuan chilli bean paste
1 tablespoon black fermented/salted beans.
2 teaspoons ground ground dried chiles (optional)
1 cup of chicken stock
1 teaspoon white sugar
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
salt to taste
2 tablespoons of cornstarch or potato flour mixed with 3 tablespoons of water
Ground roasted Sichuan peppercorns
- Cut the tofu into 1-inch cubes.
- Slice the onions at an angle in 1 to 2-inch pieces.
- Heat the peanut oil in a wok or pan over high heat.
- Add the ground meat and stir-fry until it is crispy.
- Lower the heat to medium and add the chili bean paste, stir-frying for about 30 seconds to turn the oil red.
- Add the black beans, ground chile (if you like it super-spicy), stock, sugar, soy sauce, and salt to taste and stir to combine. Simmer for a couple minutes to blend the flavors.
- Add the tofu and simmer for about 5 minutes so it absorbs some of the broth.
- Add the green onions and when they are just cooked, pour in the cornstarch or potato flour mixture a little at a time (I use about half of it). You want the sauce to be slightly thick and glossy.
- Pour in a bowl and finish with a sprinkling of ground Sichuan peppercorns.