Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Vegan Mapo Tofu is a delicious Sichuan dish of soft, silken tofu and shiitake in a gloriously rich, spicy and slightly tingly sauce. Simply perfect over a bed of rice.
Table of contents
What is Mapo Tofu?
The traditional Mapo Tofu is a classic Sichuan recipe. It’s 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.
The traditional dish, like today’s Vegan Mapo Tofu, features tofu as the main ingredient. Then, you have minced beef or minced pork to add a little body to it.
Vegan Mapo Tofu Recipe
So today’s vegan mapo tofu stays very true to the original recipe on this site, apart from the meat. We sub the meat with some shiitake, adding even more umami to the recipe. Shiitake are basically my go-to vegetarian umami ingredient.
I love shiitake, but you can use any mushrooms you like or have access to. They are meant to be complementing the tofu, so the type you use is completely up to you, but I personally think shiitake work best. But then I am biased, as it’s my favourite Oriental mushroom.
Buy your Ingredients Online!
I’ve said this a few times across the site: if you want to exercise your culinary muscles and cook “exotic” recipes, you are going to have to source out those pesky ingredients, as I like to call them.
As much as I can, I suggest viable substitutes. However, I’m not a fan of substituting ingredients just to make things easy.
When cooking “ethnic recipes” or “exotic food” (call it what you like), I don’t want to “dilute” the recipe in the name of easy. I prefer to keep it real, as much as is possible.
After all, there are plenty enough sites out there who do easy. What are your thoughts on this?
I get many ingredients online, either from specialist suppliers or the big bad Amazon! So that’s how to do it.
Let’s look at the Ingredients
Let’s take a look at the ingredients we need, pesky or otherwise.
The tofu used in making mapo tofu is of the silken variety. 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, so we are going to have to handle it very, very gently. If you can find tofu that says medium-soft, go for it, as it’ll break up less.
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 also about going with your comfort level.
Doubanjiang, Sichuan Spicy Broad Bean Paste
This might be tricky to get, but in the UK and US, so easily available online. This is one of two that I use (affiliate link).
Doubanjiang, or douban, is the soul of Chinese food. To me, the mapo tofu exhibits all the complexity and magic of doubanjiang to perfection: hot, salty and earthy.
It is made of fermented broad beans and chilli, and you have various grades of it, depending on the length of fermentation.
Substitute: Toban jian OR red miso paste with some chillies.
These are the husks of the prickly ash berry. They are not spicy, but have a tingling effect on your tongue when eaten.
The idea is that your tongue will be tingly, almost a little numb so as to allow you to eat and enjoy the fiery Sichuan food it’s used in. Click here to read more.
Sichuan peppercorns should be fairly easy to find in large supermarkets in the UK & US, but here’s my affiliate link on Amazon. That means I earn a tiny commission should you buy it using this global link. 😉
Chinese 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 highly aromatic go-to recipe for Chinese chilli oil, simply made.
But I’m giving you a super quick version for today’s vegan mapo tofu, just vegetable oil spiced up with dried chilli and the peppercorns. You decide which you’d like to go for.
Shaoxing wine is just Chinese rice wine made with fermented rice, intended for cooking purposes. It adds a lovely depth to dishes.
Here in the UK, so easily available at all the big supermarkets.
This can easily be substituted with any rice wine or dry sherry, in our vegan mapo tofu or any recipe.
If you don’t do alcohol, use 1/4 tsp of clear vinegar for every tablespoon of rice wine any recipe calls for.
Cooking Vegan Mapo Tofu
It’s a pretty straightforward recipe requiring a few distinct small parts. I’ve broken the parts up, to make them easy to follow. This is what we’ll be doing:
- make the Sichuan chilli oil (3 minutes)
- marinate the tofu (done while you get on with prep work)
- cook the mapo tofu (no more than 10 minutes)
That’s it. At the time of writing, it’s #veganuary, so no better time like the present to cook our vegan mapo tofu. And Chinese New Year is also only a month away.
Shall we get our aprons on?
More Vegan Recipes
Here is a fabulous collection from my friends at the Foodies+ community on Facebook:
More Chinese Recipes on LinsFood
♥ If you like the recipe, don’t forget to leave me a comment and that all important, 5-star rating! 😉 Xièxie! ♥
And if you make the recipe, share it on any platform and tag me @azlinbloor.
Vegan Mapo Tofu
- chopping board and knife
- spoons, spatula and bowls
- a wok or deep frying pan
- 1 Tbsp Sichuan peppercorns
- 300 g silken tofu (use firm tofu, if you prefer)
- 200 g shiitake (or mushroom of your choice)
- 2 medium cloves garlic
- 5 cm ginger
- 2 spring onions (scallions)
- 2 Tbsp doubanjiang (Sichuan broad bean paste)
- 1 Tbsp Shaoxing wine (¼ tsp regular vinegar for alcohol free)
- 125 ml water (double, if you want more sauce, but remember to check seasoning and add salt, if you need it)
- 1 tsp cornflour (cornstarch in the US)
- 1 Tbsp water to mix with the cornflour above
- 2.5 cm ginger
- 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 1 tsp light soy sauce
- ½ tsp Shaoxing wine (⅛ tsp regular vinegar for alcohol free)
Simple Chinese Chilli Oil
- 4 Tbsp vegetable or peanut oil
- 3 dried red chillies, non smoked
- ¼ tsp red chilli flakes, non smoked
- 10 Sichuan peppercorns
Make the easy Sichuan Chilli Oil
- Dry toast all the Sichuan peppercorns in a wok or frying pan for 1 minute on low heat, then transfer to a small mortar (pestle and mortar, the bowl).
- Heat the oil in the same wok or frying pan over medium-high heat and fry the dried chillies for one minute.
- Transfer the oil and chillies into a medium sized heatproof bowl and add the chilli flakes and roughly about 10 of the toasted Sichuan peppercorns (about ¼ tsp). Leave to infuse while you get everything else ready.
Marinate the Tofu
- Cut up the tofu into cubes measuring about 2.5cm/1″. If you are using silken tofu as the traditional recipe calls for, it is going to be prone to breaking up, so be gentle. It's probably going to come apart in 2-3 pieces as you are getting it our of the packaging. Don't worry too much about it. Cut it in cubes as much as possible.Place the tofu cubes into a wide, flat bowl or plate. Piling the cubes on top of each other will only encourage them to break up easily from the weight.
- Grate the ginger and place in a small bowl.
- Add the sesame oil, soy sauce and Shaoxing wine to the bowl and stir to mix well.
- Pour this marinade all over the tofu cubes. Then gently, just shake the plate slightly to allow the marinade to cover as much of the tofu as possible. Leave aside while you get the other ingredients ready.
Other Prep Work
- Lightly crush the sichuan peppercorns with a pestle and mortar.
- Slice your shiitake and set aside.
- Finely chop your garlic and ginger. Slice the spring onions into about 1cm (½") lengths. Then separate the green and white parts. We cook the white, and use the green as garnish.
- Heat the 2 Tbsp of vegetable oil in a wok or large, deep frying pan on medium heat and fry the sichuan peppercorns, the garlic, ginger and white sliced spring onions (scallions) for 30 seconds.
- Increase the heat to medium-high and add the shiitake, frying for about 1 minute.
- Add the doubanjiang and wine and stir to mix.
- Add the water, stir and bring back to simmering point.
- Stir the cornflour and water and drizzle this into the wok, stirring, while doing so. Cook for 30 seconds, to allow the sauce to thicken.
- Add the tofu cubes, and VERY carefully stir the tofu and the sauce, being careful to break up as little of the tofu as possible. But don’t fret too much, if it’s your first time. Let the tofu cook for 3 minutes.
- While the tofu is cooking, strain the chilli oil you made earlier into a clean cup or bowl. Drizzle some of the chilli oil all over, however much or however little you like. I usually use 2 Tbsp of it and keep the other 2 Tbsp, covered, in the fridge, to use later. It'll keep for a week. (Image shows a previous Sichuan oil, with chilli powder, recipe for that here).
- Take off heat, scatter the green spring onions (scallions) all over and serve immediately.