As a tofu lover, Mapo Tofu is a huge favourite of mine. This Sichuan classic is a dish of melt-in-the-mouth silken tofu, covered in a fiery red, earthy, slightly tongue numbing chilli sauce, made with Doubanjiang, the Sichuan chilli bean paste. Plain white rice is a must – nothing else is going to allow you to savour the multi layered flavours in this most delicious of Sichuan recipes!
As mentioned above, I adore tofu in all its incarnations, I love ’em steamed, grilled, fried, boiled, puffed, stuffed and even fermented. So I simply cannot understand how anyone can not like tofu! If you really, really, don’t like tofu, scroll on down to see how you can still enjoy an approximation of this dish, because I’m tellin’ ya – this is one flavour packed recipe!
There is no getting away from the fact that it is spicy. Mapo Tofu is the personification of the Sichuan description, Ma-La, which means numb-hot. Sichuan food is known for its spiciness. And to accompany the intense heat, you have sichuan peppercorns with their numbing ability.
Just when you think your mouth is about to burst with all that fiery chilli, the sichuan peppercorns (see below) do their thing and numb your mouth, your tongue and your lips! Allowing you to continue enjoying the delights that is Sichuan food! Is that just so cool, or what? If you like your spicy food, that is.
Mapo Tofu Ingredients
The tofu used in making mapo tofu is of the silken variety. You want to look for a packet that says medium-firm silken tofu, if you can. If buying from a Chinese shop, get the shopkeeper to help you out. Silken tofu is very soft and breaks up at the slightest excuse, and while that is one of the beauties of this dish, you don’t want it so soft that you end up with tofu mince. But if it’s your first time, and you do break all the tofu up, don’t worry about it, almost all my students do that the first time, as they are so used to vigorous stir frying, when it comes to Chinese food!
If you aren’t so sure about the tofu, by all means start with a firmer tofu, and work your way down the scale. Cooking is about fun and experimenting too.
The Meat In Mapo Tofu
Traditionally, either minced beef or pork was used in this recipe. Growing up in Singapore, I often ate the one made with beef which was really heavy on the meat and light on the tofu. Now that I’m older and wiser, I think, that heavy on the meat isn’t the point of the recipe! You can use any minced meat you like, even turkey. And turn it into a vegetarian mapo dofu, if you like, see below.
Doubanjiang | Hot Sichuan Broad Bean Paste
To the folks from Sichuan (Sichuanese?), doubanjiang, or douban, is the soul of Chinese food. To me, mapo tofu exhibits all the complexity and magic of doubanjiang to perfection: hot, salty, earthy. Think umami, umami, umami! Click here to read more about Doubanjiang, the chilli bean paste made with broad beans, not soy beans.
Despite the name, Sichuan peppercorns are not peppercorns and therefore, not related to our common black peppercorns at all! Sichuan peppercorns are the highly aromatic husks of the prickly ash berries which are dried and sold and they look like miniature flowers. ￼
Their claim to fame is their mouth numbing characteristic; you get a tingling sensation on your tongue which sets the stage for the typically spicy dishes found in Sichuan cuisine. Click here to read more.
Sichuan Chilli Oil
All spicy Sichuan dishes need some sort of chilli oil, it’s one of the pillars of Sichuan cooking. You can use a shop bought one, if you like, or make up a “proper” Sichuan chilli oil and keep it in your fridge, like I do. In fact, I have a couple of recipes for it, click here for my favourite recipe for Sichuan chilli oil.
I will also give you a super quick version here, just vegetable oil spiced up with peppers. You decide which you’d like to go for.
Vegetarian Mapo Tofu
This dish can be made completely vegetarian with the use of quorn mince to replace the meat, or, better still, shiitake mushrooms. Just slice your shiitake into strips, and follow the recipe.
For All You Tofu Haters!
Keep the meat, and use whatever vegetables you happen to fancy. I think green beans and carrots will go splendidly in this.
Are you a tofu lover? Tell me you are! If you are a Chinese Food lover and would like more Chinese recipes, head on over to the Chinese Page, as well as the Singaporean and Malaysian Page, for recipes like:
Have a superb weekend, everyone!
Mapo Tofu (or Mapo Dofu) recipe. This Sichuan classic is a dish of melt in the mouth silken tofu, covered in a fiery red, earthy, slightly tongue numbing chilli sauce, made with Doubanjiang, the Sichuan chilli bean paste. Nutrition is based on 6 servings.
Mapo Tofu, a fiery Sichuan Recipe, with a Vegetarian Alternative
Mapo Tofu (or Mapo Dofu) recipe. This Sichuan classic is a dish of melt in the mouth silken tofu, covered in a fiery red, earthy, slightly tongue numbing chilli sauce, made with Doubanjiang, the Sichuan chilli bean paste.
Nutrition is based on 6 servings.