Ma-Po Tofu with Tomatoes
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Ma-po tofu, the classic Sichuan dish of simmered tofu and ground pork, is intensely flavorful and very quick to make. Just remember that the dish takes only 20 minutes to prepare and cook, so start your rice or noodles first thing.
- 1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- ¼ teaspoon red chile flakes, or to taste
- 4 ounces ground pork
- ½ cup chopped scallions
- 2 cups chopped tomatoes (canned are fine, just drain their juice)
- 12 ounces firm silken tofu, cut into small cubes
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- Chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
Put the oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the garlic, ginger, and chile flakes and cook just until they begin to sizzle, less than a minute. Add the pork and stir to break it up; cook, stirring occasionally, until it loses most of its pink color and begins to crisp, 3–5 minutes.
Add the scallions, tomatoes, and stock. Cook for a minute or two, scraping the bottom of pan with a wooden spoon to loosen any brown bits of meat. Add the tofu and cook, stirring once or twice, until the tofu is heated through, about 2 minutes.
Stir in the soy sauce; taste and season with salt and more red chile flakes if you like. Garnish with cilantro and serve.
Authentic Mapo Tofu (麻婆豆腐)
An easy mapo tofu recipe that creates the authentic taste of China.
Mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐, ma po dou fu) is one of the most popular classic Sichuan dishes. It has a spicy, pungent, and appetizing flavor that goes perfectly with steamed rice.
I love cooking mapo tofu for a quick lunch or dinner. Sometimes I double the meat and sauce, so it will be enough to serve two people as a one-dish meal. I also like to add a handful of greens (mustard greens or spinach) at the end of braising, to create a more nutritious and balanced meal. I often replace the ground pork (used in the authentic version) with ground turkey to cut calories.
For special diets, you can make it less spicy and skip the rice so it will be paleo friendly. You can also make it into a vegan dish by replacing the meat with mushrooms.
Yes, mapo tofu is such a versatile dish!
I’m sharing my basic mapo tofu recipe below. It creates the very authentic taste that you’d get at a restaurant in China. However, based on this recipe, you can easily twist the dish according to your preferences.
Here’s a recipe for mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐) packed with flavor and nutrition. For those who’ve never eaten it, mapo tofu is a Sichuan Chinese dish of soft tofu stewed in a spicy bean and chili oil sauce.
Mapo tofu is a challenging dish for a healthy makeover. It is an absolute classic inside and outside China, embedded in many people’s memories, maybe since childhood. Why mess with the authentic version of a beloved dish? A true Sichuan chef will say the original is all about the oil: it’s delicate tofu steeped in fire red chili oil, flavored with pork and pungent fermented fava bean paste.
Do we oppose this version? Of course not! It’s delicious and its history deserves our respect. But does that mean we’re forced to stick with “authentic”? Below are three versions of mapo tofu from China. It’s hard to say which is correct, but I think it shows there isn’t one answer.
If we give ourselves license revise the recipe, like chefs do in and out of China, then we arrive at what Kaixin Cooking is all about: preserving core flavor from traditional Chinese cuisine while boosting nutrition and health.
For this recipe, we will keep two core ingredients: Sichuan Pixian doubanjiang (a spicy fermented chili paste made with fava beans) and Sichuan peppercorns (a numbing, tingling spice). While not common household spices, these two ingredients create a unique numbing spice (also found in many other delicious Sichuan recipes) so I highly recommend taking the extra step to get them.
To the original recipe, we add mushrooms, onions, and tomatoes to boost flavor and nutrition, and substitute some oil and pork with healthier fat from walnuts. I think you’ll love the result!
- 1 (16 ounce) package soft tofu, cut into 1/3-inch cubes
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon water, or as needed
- 6 ½ tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 spring onions, roughly chopped
- 1 (3/4 inch thick) slice fresh ginger, chopped
- 2 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorns
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 5 ounces ground pork
- 1 tablespoon doubanjiang (spicy broad bean paste)
- 2 teaspoons rice wine
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Place tofu in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let sit for 1 minute drain.
Mix water and cornstarch together in a bowl to make a runny paste.
Heat oil in a wok or large skillet over medium heat. Cook and stir spring onions, ginger, peppercorns, and garlic until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in ground pork, doubanjiang paste, rice wine, and soy sauce cook, stirring frequently, until pork is browned, about 5 minutes.
Stir drained tofu into the wok or skillet. Cook and stir until coated with sauce, about 2 minutes. Season with salt. Pour in cornstarch paste and mix well until sauce thickens, about 1 minute.
The Story of Mapo Tofu
In 1862, the owners of the Chen Xingsheng Eating House 陳興盛飯舖, a small mom-and-pop shop, started experimenting with their mouth-watering tofu and pork dish.
Little did the Chen family know, that they would soon make a name for themselves and quickly become one of Chengdu's most popular restaurants.
The "mapo" in Mapo Tofu refers to Mrs. Chen, an elderly woman with bumpy, cratered skin.
Although an unfortunate nickname, Mrs. Chen became a local legend, known as Chen Mapo.
She and her family eventually embraced the name. Decades later, they officially rebranded their restaurant as Chen Mapo Tofu Restaurant 陳麻婆豆腐.
In 2011, UNESCO declared Chengdu a "city of gastronomy", to be celebrated for its sophisticated culinary greatness.
Among the many incredible flavors and dishes you might find in Sichuan, Mapo Tofu stands among the best.
Mrs. Chen's legacy is undeniable, inspiring generations upon generations of chefs to build upon her recipe.
If you ever find yourself in Chengdu, the Chen Mapo Tofu Restaurant is still open for business, over 150 years later.
In the meantime, you can make your own delicious mapo tofu for yourself at home!
Real-Deal Mapo Tofu Recipe
In many parts of the world, tofu is a vastly misunderstood ingredient maligned as a pale meat imitation, it's no wonder so many people turn their noses up at it.
Well, I'm here to set the record straight: tofu is emphatically not a meat substitute. It's an ingredient in its own right, and a delicious one at that. Indeed, in many traditional Chinese and Japanese dishes, it's prepared together with meat in a single dish. I grew up on the sweet-and-salty, heavy-on-the-beef version of mapo tofu that my mom used to make for us, sometimes with her own seasoning, but often just thrown together from a packet. When paired with her handmade beef dumplings, it was far and away my favorite meal.
Since then, I've had mapo tofu everywhere from Chinese takeout joints in Manhattan to real-deal Sichuan restaurants in Hong Kong. But the best I've ever had was at Fuloon, a Sichuan restaurant in the Boston suburb of Malden whose chef, Zhang Wenxue, is a straight-from-Sichuan export who brought his woks and his skills with him. (He also makes the best steamed beef in chili oil and Sichuan wontons anywhere.)
A traditional Sichuan dish, mapo tofu is made with simmered medium-firm silken tofu flavored with fermented bean paste, beef, plenty of red-hot roasted chili oil, and a handful of Sichuan peppercorns. When done right, the dish comes out with a thick coating of hot chili oil covering its surface, keeping the contents underneath hot in both senses of the word. It's a great representation of málà, or hot and numbing flavor.
Chef Zhang says the secret is all about layering flavors. He starts by infusing his cooking oil with Sichuan peppercorns and finishes the dish by sprinkling more of the toasted and ground peppercorns on top. The result is intense, soul-satisfying fare.
It's dangerously addictive stuff. Just as your mouth seems about to spontaneously combust from the chili heat, the Sichuan peppers kick in, numbing it back to soothing calmness so you can take another bite and start the whole process over again. I go through bowls of it like a fiend.
I took a trip inside the kitchen with Chef Zhang to see exactly how he does it. Once you get the basic hang of wok-cooking, the dish comes together remarkably fast—five minutes and you're done.
7 Delicious Recipes That’ll Get You Hooked on Tofu (Really!)
When meat-eaters hear the word tofu, many think, “Tof-ewww.” (See what I did there? I crack myself up.) But come on, guys! Even the meat-loving chain Chipotle is embracing the protein-packed soy-product—so it’s probably about time you jump on board.
I’ll be the first to admit it, tofu does not look so good (or taste very good) straight out of the package. In fact, it tastes like nothing—absolutely nothing. But this super bland initial taste is exactly what makes tofu so great it doesn’t have its own flavor so it easily absorbs any flavor of your choosing. In a soy-saucy mood? No problem. More in the mood for pesto? Well, tofu tastes great in that, too. It is, arguably, the most versatile food product in existence. (Can you tell how much I love tofu?)
The inexpensive product, available in pretty much every grocery store, tends to be a staple in vegetarian diets. But there’s no reason meat-eaters shouldn’t embrace it as well. In fact, tofu provides good doses of iron and calcium and is low in calories to boot. Now, that’s something you definitely can’t say about a piece of steak.
Here are a few recipes to get the ball rolling on your tofu obsession. And, if you’re already a tofu-lover, these should be right up your alley.
These vegan and gluten-free fish-inspired tacos are a light and refreshing dish fit for the last cookout of the year. (Because, let’s be honest with ourselves, soon it’s going to be a bit too chilly to grill-out.) These tasty tacos are topped off with a red cabbage slaw and an avocado cashew “cream” sauce. If those toppings don’t float your boat, feel free to mix it up: Try a mango and poblano salsa or an avocado pico de gallo.
This Asian-inspired dish, with soy sauce-marinated tofu steaks served over sautéed bok choy, is sure to satisfy even the most die-hard meat lovers. Bonus: You only have to spend 20 minutes in the kitchen!
Confession: This is a dish that I’ve been making at least once a week for the past three years, and I have yet to get sick of it. Seriously, it’s that good. Plus, all of the ingredients are things that you’ve probably already got in your fridge or pantry: tomatoes, onions, garlic, peppers, beans. Also, this dish is a great, inexpensive way to please a crowd. So if you’ve been freaking out about how you’re going to feed the hoards of relatives visiting over the holidays, you can stop now.
This clever play on the the deli-favorite switches out the artery-clogging bacon for the more heart-healthy mustard-and-soy-dusted baked tofu. Topped off with a creamy adobo mayonnaise (or Veganaise, if you prefer a dairy-free version), this sandwich is sure to become a lunchbox staple.
The temperature is dropping and once winter comes along, there is nothing more comforting than a warm bowl of soup. This vegan take on the Chinese restaurant staple is sure to warm you up and fill you up. Packed with tofu and mushrooms, this would be a great lunch dish or a nice light dinner. You could even throw in some vitamin-packed seaweed to add a little extra oomph.
This might be the easiest dinner you’ve ever made. Seriously. All you have to do is marinate the sliced tofu in your favorite barbecue sauce (I’ve been totally obsessed with Rockland’s Chipotle Hot Sauce lately), and then broil it for about ten minutes. SO easy, right? You can pair this with quinoa for a protein-packed dinner or go the more traditional route, serving your BBQ tofu alongside some grilled corn and mac n’ cheese. Yum!
The smell of Indian food alone is enough to make me cook it every night. Like, if Diptyque made a candle called “Your Favorite Indian Restaurant,” I would own it, and I would burn it all day, every day. But enough about the smell. This tomato-based tikka masala made with tofu and veggies strikes the perfect balance of spicy and creamy. Not only is it the perfect cold-weather comfort-food, it also makes for great leftovers.
IN SALTED WATER, SIMMER THE TOFU, TAKING CARE NOT TO BREAK THE CUBES. THE SALTED WATER HELPS FLAVOR THE TOFU AND THE POACHING PROCESS HELPS THE TOFU RETAIN ITS STRUCTURE.
IN A WOK OR LARGE POT, HEAT THE OIL OVER HIGH HEAT. ADD MINCED BEEF FAT AND COOK TO GOLDEN BROWN. ADD PEPPER POWDER, STIR, THEN IMMEDIATELY ADD TOMATO PASTE. COOK UNTIL OIL BECOME A DEEP RED HUE AND THE TOMATO PASTE BEGINS TO DARKEN SLIGHTLY BUT NOT BROWN. ADD DOUBANJIANG, INCORPORATE, THEN ADD GINGER AND GARLIC. INCORPORATE PORK AND COOK TO MEDIUM RARE DONENESS, ADD 3 CUPS CHICKEN STOCK, SEASON WITH MUSHROOM POWDER, SALT AND SUGAR. BRING TO A BOIL, TASTE FOR SEASONING. THIS SHOULD BE SPICY, SALTY, SLIGHTLY SWEET AND UMAMI IN THAT ORDER. THICKEN WITH CORNSTARCH SLURRY TO THE CONSISTENCY OF A LIGHT GRAVY. STRAIN POACHED TOFU, TAKE CARE THAT IT IS COMPLETELY DEVOID OF EXCESS WATER. ADD TOFU TO SAUCE, STIR GENTLY.
FINISH WITH CHILI OIL, SICHUAN PEPPER OIL, AND GREEN SICHUAN PEPPERCORN, TO TASTE. GARNISH WITH MARIGOLD PETALS. ENJOY WITH STEAMED RICE.
- Make sauce:
- Stir together broth, bean paste, soy sauce, and kosher salt. Set aside.
- Slide tofu into a saucepan of simmering water and keep at a bare simmer while stir-frying rest of dish.
- Heat a wok or large heavy skillet over high heat until hot and add 1 1/2 tablespoons corn oil, swirling to coat. Add pork and stir-fry, breaking up lumps and adding remaining 1/2 tablespoon corn oil if meat sticks, until no longer pink. Add garlic and ginger and stir-fry over moderate heat until very fragrant, about 2 minutes.
- Stir reserved sauce, then add to pork and bring to a simmer. Drain tofu in a large sieve and slide into sauce, stirring gently.
- Stir cornstarch mixture and add to stir-fry. Bring to a boil, stirring gently, and cook until thickened and glossy, about 15 seconds.
- Turn off heat and sprinkle with sesame oil, Sichuan-peppercorn powder to taste, and 2 tablespoons scallion. Stir once or twice, then serve sprinkled with remaining tablespoon scallion.
Cooking Instruction for Mapo Tofu Recipe
Add the chicken Inventory, cornstarch, soy sauce and sugar to a small bowl and stir to mix.
Heat a wok or large frying pan until hot. Add the sesame oil, garlic, ginger and green onions and stir-fry having a spatula until fragrant. Add the beans and Sichuan pepper and then keep stir-frying.
Add the ground pork and use the spatula to split it up into small. When the pork is cooked, insert the doubanjiang and stir to disperse. Add the broccoli, carrot, peas and then toss to combine.
Give the stock Combine a good stir to include anything that may have settled, and then pour it on the pork and tofu.
Garnished with Green parts of the green onions, then serve with spicy rice, nana, chapatti or bread.