Thursday, May 26, 2011

Mapo Tofu

When you have grown up with a very good cook - in this case my mother - it is always a bit intimidating to cook their specialties for them. However, my mother stopped cooking about 5 years ago after she had a stroke and she misses her favorite dishes. Of course, she orders them at restaurants, but they are not the same. I've been visiting her so I decided to cook for her as I get tired of going out to restaurants all the time. My mother loves tofu in every manifestation. She could eat it for every meal and her hands down favorite dish is Mapo Tofu. This is a Szechanese dish named after a pockmarked woman in China, which is what the tofu looks like when it is cooked. I would hate to be known for my bad complexion, but Mrs. Ma has earned eternal fame from her good cooking. 

Mapo Tofu, like all Szechuan dishes has lot of chilis in it mixed with ground pork that creates a savory sauce to blanket the bland tofu squares. It is delicious served over lots of white rice. It is also very simple to make and only requires that you keep on hand soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, hoisin sauce, cornstarch and garlic chili paste or chili bean paste. I like the Lee Kum Kee brand of sauces. The level of heat can be determined by how much chili sauce you use and if you want to be really authentic, sprinkle the dish with a bit of Szechuan peppercorns to finish. It will numb your lips, but maybe that's part of the experience! I like to use more ground meat than usual. Most people use only about 1/4 pound and I often double this amount as I love the textural contrast to the soft tofu. This dish has converted a lot of my friends into tofu lovers and is one of my most frequently requested recipes. Oh and by the way, my mother told me it was as good as hers used to be. High praise indeed. Hope you enjoy it too!

Mapo Tofu

1 pound firm tofu, rinsed and cut into cubes
1/3 - 1/2 pound ground pork
3 scallions, sliced - separate white part from green part
1 large garlic clove minced
1 inch by 1/4 inch slice of ginger, peeled and minced finely
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon Rice Wine
2 teaspoons Hoisin Sauce
2 teaspoons Chili Garlic Paste or Chili Bean Paste
1 teaspoon Toasted Sesame Oil
3 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil
1/4 cup chicken broth or water
1 Tablespoon Cornstarch mixed with enough water to make a slurry
Optional: 1/4 teaspoon ground Szechuan Pepper

Place ground pork in a small bowl. Add 1 Tablespoon of Soy Sauce, Rice Wine and Hoisin Sauce. Mix in thoroughly and put aside to marinate for a few minutes.

Mix together the chicken broth, remaining soy sauce and chili paste in a small bowl. Put aside.

Put oil into a heated frying pan or wok and add in the white part of the green onions with the ginger and garlic. Cook for a few minutes until you can smell the fragrance. Add in ground pork and cook until the pink disappears. Add tofu cubes carefully and cook stirring frequently to turn cubes and get them hot for 3 - 4 minutes. Add in the chicken broth mixture and boil for a few more minutes. Add in cornstarch and sesame oil and stir to thicken. Add in green part of green onions and Szechuan pepper if using. Serve with lots of steamed white rice.

Five Element Analysis

Tofu belongs to the Metal Element and so do the green onions, ginger and garlic so that element is covered. The white rice adds Metal too. Pork adds the Water Element along with the soy sauce, hoisin sauce and sesame oil. The Fire Element is also well represented by the chili paste, rice wine and Szechaun peppercorns. The Wood Element is only shown in the chicken broth so it needs some support and the Earth Element is lacking except for a tiny bit of cornstarch. So to balance this meal, serve a green vegetable on the side and some cooling fruit for dessert.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

German Fried Potatoes

When I was a child, my father was responsible for Sunday breakfast. It was my Mom's one morning off and my father made pancakes most of the time. I wasn't crazy about pancakes until I discovered real maple syrup, so I was always happiest when he made what we girls called German Fried Potatoes, but is really called Farmer's Breakfast. This dish is basically composed of the leftovers from a roast dinner. It is a combination of potatoes, onions, meat and eggs fried together in a pan and was quite common for farmers to eat after coming in from milking the cows. It is a hearty meal, which farmers need and was truly something that my Pennsylvania Dutch grandfather ate when he was a boy on the family farm. I was quite tickled to discover that it really is an old German dish - called Bauern Fruhstuck - which means Farmer's Breakfast! I've also had it in a hotel in Denmark served with eggs sunny side up on top.

Since I don't make a lot of roasts and don't often have leftover potatoes, I usually cook it with fresh potatoes which takes longer, but the potatoes have more texture. It is quite versatile and a lot of different meats can be added. I suppose it is a lot like Corned Beef Hash if you have leftover Corned Beef and boiled potatos except that you add the eggs into it. It is also like the Spanish Tortilla, except it is scrambled instead of being made into a frittata and cut in wedges.

Like many homey foods, it is an excellent way to use up leftovers. This dish is often something I will make for dinner, especially if I have already cooked potatoes as then it only takes minutes to make. One of the tricks with fresh potatoes is to add the onions in after the potatoes are nearly done or the onions will burn. One of my grandmother's additions was to put in cubes of stale bread at the end and crisp those up too, which adds a whole different dimension of texture. My sisters and I like to eat it with ketchup although my father liked Worcestershire Sauce on it and if my mother ate it, she put on Tabasco sauce. I hope you enjoy this German farmer's breakfast dish.

German Fried Potatoes

4 medium Russet potatoes, peeled and cubed (or use cold baked potatoes and leave skins on)
1 onion chopped
1 cup meat of your choice - roast beef, ham, Corned Beef, pork roast, lamb or chicken cut in small cubes
4 eggs beaten
4 Tablespoons of vegetable oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
Optional: 4 slices white bread, crusts cut off and cut into cubes +2 Tablespoons of butter

In a large frying pan, heat oil until hot. Add in potatoes and cook until just starting to brown and then turn over and continue to cook until brown on the other side. Add in onion and continue to cook until onions start to brown. Add in meat and cook until meat is warmed. If desired, make a space in the center of the pan and put in butter to melt and add in bread cubes. Cook until browned and turn until browned on the other side. Stir it all back together again and season with salt and pepper - it takes more than you think! Taste until you like the saltiness level. Then pour the eggs over the top of the potato mixture and cook until it just starts to set, then turn over and break up so that the egg scrambles. Remove as soon as the egg stops being runny and serve.

Five Element Analysis

Potatoes belong to the Earth Element and eggs and salt bring in the Water Element. Onions contribute the Metal Element and the bread cubes add the Wood Element. Only pepper brings in a tiny bit of the Fire Element so this element needs support so lamb would be the most balancing meat (chicken would bring in Wood, pork or ham - Water, beef adds more Earth). But, if you don't use lamb, Ketchup or Tabasco Sauce will add the Fire that completes the Five Elements in this one dish meal.