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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Asian-Inspired Noodle Salad

This salad combines a ton of fresh flavors with rice noodles and mushrooms to help it be a little more filling. You can really use whatever mushrooms you like, but I recommend shiitake, oyster, and enokitake. Enokitake look pretty cool, and come in a bunch of different forms, but the cultivated kind have long, thin stalks and little tiny caps.

Prep time: ~15 minutes
Gluten-free
Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • ~200 g rice noodles.
  • 3 cups mushrooms, thinly sliced.
  • 2 red chilis, with the seeds and pith removed, finely sliced (use less if you don’t like spicy food!).
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced.
  • 1 piece of fresh ginger, about thumb sized, peeled and sliced into small, thin strips.
  • 1 zucchini, sliced into a fine julienne (about the size and width of a matchstick).
  • 4 green onions, finely sliced.
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil.
  • 1 small bunch coriander, stalks removed from the leaves.
  • 6 cups leafy greens (spinach, arugula, or bok choy would be nice).

For the dressing:

  • 2 tbsp soy sauce/gluten-free soy sauce.
  • 2 tsp sweetener of your choice.
  • 2 tsp sesame oil.
  • 2 tsp rice wine vinegar.

Cooking Instructions:

Heat a pan or wok on high heat. Add the sesame oil, and then toss in the mushrooms. Cook, stirring often, until they begin to soften. Next, add the chili, garlic, ginger, zucchini, and green onions. Fry until they start to soften as well.

Meanwhile, cook your rice noodles according to package directions. When cooked, strain, and rinse with cold water to prevent them from overcooking and getting soggy.

Place all of your dressing ingredients in a small bowl and mix well. When combined, add it to your frying pan/wok, and stir well, coating the vegetables and mushrooms well.

Take your frying pan/wok off the heat, and toss in the rice noodles, coriander, and leafy greens. Give it a quick toss, to mix it all together, and then serve.