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.

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