Mapo Tofu is one of the best known Sichuan dishes. The name Mapo refers to the pockmarked face of a woman who is said to have invented the recipe. As the legend goes, the old woman lived in isolation, because of her disfigurement. One night, a wealthy businessman stopped at her home to seek shelter from the rain, and the woman — so pleased to have a guest — whipped up her best recipe: a stew of tofu, ground pork, scallions, and two bean pastes — one fermented and one spicy. The businessman was so impressed by the woman’s cooking that he told everyone he knew about the dish, and eventually it came to be named after her.
Aside from its colorful story, what I like about this dish is that it uses meat in the opposite way of most Western recipes. Instead of the meal being based around the meat, here, the meat is there just to add flavor — not to be the main event.
The original recipe calls for fermented black bean paste, which you can find at most Asian groceries. Ours happened to be out, so we decided to make our own black bean paste (non-fermented). It ended up being really tasty, so we included it in the recipe below.
To create our vegetarian “pork,” we were adapted a recipe that uses ground walnuts to replace taco meat. We thought it might make a good substitute for ground pork in Mapo Tofu, and it turns out we were right. To make it, we followed the same recipe as we do for the taco meat, and stirred it into broth the at the very end.
Let us know if you try it and what you think 🙂
- 1 cup walnuts
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- ¼ teaspoon coriander
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
Black Bean Paste
- ¼ cup black beans, strained, half of it mashed
- 1 tablespoon of sesame oil
- 1 Sichuan pepper or 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper
- 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 teaspoon chopped ginger
- One 14-oz package of tofu, drained and dried, blanched
- 2 scallions, chopped finely
- 1 tablespoon corn starch
- 1 vegetable bouillon cube
- 2 teaspoons of doubanjiang (chili bean paste), optional (We usually omit this ingredient because we don’t like as much spice)
- Up to a day before cooking, dry the tofu. Blanch and set aside to cool.
- Combine walnuts, cumin, coriander, and soy sauce in a food processor. Blend it until it has a crumbly, ground meat consistency. Set aside.
- In a small saucepan, heat sesame oil and add black beans, red pepper, soy sauce, garlic, and ginger. I actually added the beans whole and mashed about half of them with the wooden spatula as I cooked them. Stir occasionally. Make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
- While the bean paste is cooking, dice the tofu. In a medium sauce pan, heat sesame oil and add tofu. Sautee on high heat. Once it starts to lightly brown, add scallions. Sautee the two together until golden brown.
- Remove the bean paste from the heat.
- In a kettle or small pot, boil a half a cup of water and dissolve the chicken or vegetable bouillon cube. Add into pot with tofu and scallion. Mix a tablespoon of corn starch in to thicken broth. Once completely integrated, remove from heat.
- Add bean paste to mixture and stir. Add “pork” meat last. Serve with a side of steamed rice.