Thursday, January 8, 2015

Szechuan Mapo Tofu...

Mapo tofu is a Szechuan favourite and a super easy and tasty dish to cook up where tofu and pork are intensely mixed with hot bean paste and Szechuan chilies if desired.The Chinese translation is literally "pockmarked old woman's or grandmother's bean curd." The dish was made famous by a Szechuan restaurant helmed by an elderly woman whose face showed the effects of smallpox. It was so popular, people would travel for days, or weeks to eat it at the restaurant. The dish had no name but it soon became known as mapo doufou ode to the old woman cook. The key ingredient is the Toban Djan also known as chili broad bean paste which is widely used in Szechuan cuisine and considered to be the soul of their dishes. Last night, I made mine family-friendly by toning the heat way down, forewent the dried Szechuan chilies and added green peas for some veggies. I learned later in the meal, with my son's protest I could definitely ante up the heat next time. Great for hubby and me :)

Szechuan Mapo Tofu
Makes 6 servings

1 Tbsp. cooking oil
3 or 4 dried Szechuan chilies (optional)
2 garlic cloves,finely chopped
1/2 to 1-1/2 Tbsp. Toban Djan (use moderately and adjust to suit your family's taste)
1/2 cup frozen green peas (optional)
1 cup lean ground pork
1 Tbsp. Chinese cooking wine
1 cup of water or chicken broth
1 Tbsp. soy sauce and 1 tsp. dark mushroom soy sauce 
1pkg. (700 g) fresh regular tofu, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, drain water emitted
1 Tbsp. cornstarch dissolved in 3 Tbsp. water
2 green onions, finely chopped
sesame oil

The preferred Toban Djan (Chili Bean Sauce) brand I use is Lee Kum Kee.

Heat oil in skillet/wok on medium-high and add chilies, garlic and Toban Djan; stir-fry one minute then cook the preserved vegetables, peas and pork (breaking up meat) until almost cooked. Turn heat to high; add Add wine, broth and both soy sauces. Bring to a boil. Add the tofu, and return to a boil again stir-frying for three minutes. Taste the dish at this step to see whether any extra salt or Toban Djan is needed. 

Make a well in the centre of the tofu mixture, and stir the cornstarch mixture in. Simmer around two minutes with high fire until the sauce is thickened. Mix in green onions. Drizzle with sesame oil. Serve hot.

Soft, saucy, savoury, slightly spicy and easy to eat... perfect over steamed rice!

My son Étienne asked where the spiciness was? I had to scoop some mapo tofu into a separate bowl and mix a little Toban Djan in it for him to be satisfied. He and his twin brother polished it all up with big spoonfuls of rice. This dish is so easy to shovel down and finished before you know it! A true winner at our family table!

Leftovers are the best- makes for an effortless dinner! Tonight, instead of rice again, I got creative and served leftover mapo tofu over bowls of udon noodle soup... in a chicken broth seasoned with more Toban Djan and Chinkiang black vinegar to give the flavours of Hot and Soup soup and thickened with cornstarch for a hearty experience. So slurpelicious...!

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