A vegetarian or vegan version of the classic Szechuan dish with all the flavor but none the meat. Even if you’re a meat lover, you probably won’t even miss the meat with this recipe! Keep on reading to find out how this famous dish got its name!
I’ve known a lot of westerners who refuse to eat tofu (Sean was one of them). Then I found out it’s not all their fault after I came to the US.
First of all, tofu often comes in CANS! I’d never ever seen that before until I came here, that was a shock to me. There are tofu that comes in plastic containers at grocery stores but can be hard to find in some area.
Second of all, I’m not sure if places here know how to cook tofu? I didn’t like tofu when I was a kid because I didn’t like soft and slimy things but then I grew to love it’s flavor and flexibility (you can do wonders with tofu!)
Tofu here seems to be that one white spongy looking thing you find in a can (or soft, firm and extra firm if you’re lucky), but in Taiwan they come in all shape, sizes, textures and colors sold in tanks of flowing water like you would only see at the seafood section of the grocery store with the smell of freshly grounded soybean milk being cooked on the giant stove. It is magical.
We visited Sean’s sister in Seattle a while ago and she said she’d never had tofu that she liked and her husband LOVES everything meat and possibly never had tofu. I made dinner for everyone with Mapo tofu being one of the dishes and they LOVED it. It is spicy, tingly, flavorful and all the spices seeping into the tender tofu makes people forget that they are actually eating a vegetarian dish! What makes this recipe really stands out from the crowd is our Homemade Mala Hot Sauce.
Wondering how “Mapo tofu” got it’s name? Back in Qing dynasty(1900s) in Chengdu, Szechuan, there was a lady whose face was covered with scars from smallpox, so people called her the pockmarks lady (Mapo 麻婆). Her and her husband Mr. Chen owned a little eatery close to a portal where workers transport oil so the workers often stop and eat at their place.
Tofu is a dish that’s much cheaper than meat, so it was popular among the customers. After a while, the workers have tried all kinds of tofu dishes on the menu and they wanted something different so they asked Mapo to create a new tofu dish. She pulled condiments and spices that was already in her pantry: Chili, bean paste, garlic sprouts, Szechuan pepper and ground beef to create this new dish and EVERYONE LOVED IT. They said the tofu was soft and silky yet kept it’s shape, and the flavor was “tingly, spicy, fresh, hot, crisp and soft” and they could easily eat this with three bowls of rice, basically saying that it was impeccable. So the word of this amazing dish spread but it didn’t have a name so everyone simply called it “Mapo tofu”.
Traditionally Mapo tofu is made with ground beef, but since meat is not always a thing I keep in the fridge, I often make this dish without and just use what I have in the pantry. Garlic sprout is an ingredient that’s rarely seen in the US so I just throw in extra chopped garlic at the end and garnish with green onions to compensate. There are “Mapo” seasoning that you can find in some grocery stores but I find the flavor so much better with homemade Mala Hot Sauce added to the dish. The freshly grounded Szechuan pepper really makes a difference than the ones that’s been sitting on a shelf for half a year. Chili bean paste would be the one thing I do recommend to buy, the usage is plentiful. Beef noodle soup, spicy hot pot, fried rice, fried noodles or just a condiment. The fermented beans and chili flavor is kind of addicting.
I find the “soft” tofu in US works the best with this recipe.
Delicious served over rice or noodles!!!
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- 1 Box of "Soft" tofu cubed 1"x1"
- 1 TBsp Oil
- 3 TBsp Chili bean paste
- 1/4 C Water
- 1/2 tsp cornstarch+3T Water for thickening
- 1 Sprig of Spring onion chopped
- 5 Cloves of Garlic finely minced
- 1 1/2 TBsp Homemade Mala Hot Sauce or substitute with 1T freshly grounded Szechuan pepper
- Heat up 1T Oil on medium heat
- Fry until fragrant (1min):3T Chili bean paste
- Add1/4C Water1 Box of Soft tofu, cubed 1" x 1"
- Cook for 5+ mins to reduce the sauce and cook the flavor into tofu
- Stir in and cook until desired thickness:1/2t cornstarch+3T Water (for thickening)
- Mix in and turn the heat off:1 Sprig Spring onion, chopped
5 Cloves of Garlic, finely minced
1 1/2T Homemade Mala Hot Sauce (or substitute with 1T freshly grounded Szechuan pepper)
- Plate and serve