Vegan Ma Po Tofu

A delicious, tremendously spicy dish from the Sichuan (or Szechuan, depending how you spell it) province of China, and a new go-to of mine! This is a rich, flavourful stew served on a bed of rice. Easy to prepare and quick to make. Not the most traditional version of the dish, to be fair, but it sure is delicious!

There are a couple of ingredients you might not be familiar with in this dish: Sichuan peppercorns and chili bean sauce. You can find both of these quite easily at a Chinese supermarket! Sichuan peppercorns are wonderfully spicy and leave an almost tingly feeling in your mouth – great for making your own spicy oil for various stir fry dishes. The chili bean sauce is made from fermented broad beans and chilies. It’s incredibly delicious and provides most of the seasoning for the dish, since it’s quite salty!

If you have a lower spice tolerance, feel free to omit the chilies or reduce the amount of peppercorns used.

Traditionally, this dish would use ground pork, but here I’ve replaced that with mushrooms, to make it vegan-friendly while still keeping that lovely umami flavour. Normally this would be cooked in a wok, but if you don’t have one, a deep frying pan will work just fine!

Prep time: ~30 minutes.
Serves: 4-6.

Ingredients:

  • 3 tbsp. Sichuan peppercorns.
  • 2 red chilies, finely diced.
  • 3-4 tbsp vegetable oil.
  • 3 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and finely diced.
  • 3 tbsp garlic, peeled and finely diced.
  • 200 g. button mushrooms, finely diced.
  • 1-2 tbsp chili bean sauce.
  • 1 tsp soy sauce.
  • 1 tsp rice vinegar.
  • 200 ml boiling water.
  • 400 g. tofu (anywhere from medium to firm is fine!), cut into 1 cm cubes.
  • 2 tsp cornstarch.
  • 2 scallions, finely sliced.

Cooking Instructions:

Before you begin, start cooking some long-grain rice, about 1/4 cup per person. This will take about as long as the rest of the dish!

Start by grinding half of the peppercorns in a spice grinder or mortar or pestle, just until you get a coarse, crumb-like consistency.

Heat the oil in the wok over medium-high heat, and add in the peppercorns and chilies. Fry for a couple of minutes, until the oil takes on some of the colour, then add in the ginger and garlic.

Keep everything moving in the pan, and fry for a couple of minutes, until the ginger and garlic become fragrant. Add the mushrooms in, and once they become soft, stir in the chili bean paste, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and water.

Make a cornstarch slurry in a small dish by mixing the cornstarch with a couple teaspoons of water. Add that to the pan, and stir it through well until it begins to thicken into a lovely sauce.

Bring to a gentle bubble, then stir in the tofu, being careful not to break the pieces. Simmer for a few minutes to allow the tofu to heat through completely. Check

Spoon some rice into the bottom of a bowl, then top with the stew. Sprinkle a small handful of chopped scallions, and enjoy!

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