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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Vegan Rice Bowl

Kind of similar to the Quinoa Black Bean Bowl I posted several months ago, this is a relatively easy recipe that can be tailored to your personal tastes!

I’ve included two variations of this style of bowl – one with brown rice, fried tofu, and fresh vegetables, and the other with a brown-and-wild rice medley with roasted sweet potatoes, broccoli, and beans.

This recipe can be gluten-free if you use gluten-free soy sauce and substitute the flour for another gluten-free flour (I’ve used brown rice flour for this, and it works quite well).

Serves 6
Prep time: ~30 minutes for the tofu bowl, ~45 minutes for the sweet potato bowl.

Ingredients:

For the tofu bowl:

  • 200 g extra firm tofu.
  • 2 tsp sesame oil.
  • 1/2 tsp Chinese five-spice.
  • 2 tsp soy sauce.
  • 1 tsp grated ginger.
  • 1/2 – 1 cup flour, for coating the tofu.
  • pinch of black pepper.
  • 2 cups brown rice, rinsed.
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and grated into thin strips.
  • 2 large beets, peeled and grated into thin strips.
  • 1 bell pepper (red, orange, or yellow), sliced into very thin strips.
  • 6 large handfuls spinach (or other greens – bok choy would work nicely), washed.

For the sweet potato bowl:

  • 4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 cm cubes.
  • 1 tbsp olive oil.
  • 2 tsp Za’atar (Middle Eastern blend of herbs and sesame seeds), or other herbs.
  • 1 small head of broccoli, cut into florets.
  • 1 small head of cauliflower, cut into florets.
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon.
  • 1.5 cups brown rice, rinsed.
  • 1/2 cup wild rice, rinsed.
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed.

For the dressing (goes with both bowls):

  • 1/3 cup soy sauce.
  • 1/3 cup apple cider/balsamic vinegar.
  • 2 tbsp tahini.
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped.
  • splash of hot sauce.
  • pinch of black pepper.
  • 1 cup vegetable oil (olive oil works well).

Cooking Instructions:

For the dressing:

Add the soy, vinegar, tahini, garlic, hot sauce, and vinegar to a blender/food processor. If you have an immersion blender, use the beaker that came with it. Blend the dressing, slowly dribbling in the oil.

Alternatively, mince the garlic very finely, and then just mix it all together in a bowl with a fork. Depends on how much effort you want to expend.

For the tofu bowl:

Cook your brown rice in a rice cooker, or in  a pot on the stove according to package directions. Add a splash of oil and a pinch of salt to the water. While it cooks, it’s time to press and marinate your tofu.

This is how I like to press my tofu – place it on a bed of paper towels on a large plate, then place another plate on top. Put something heavy on top of the plate (a couple of cans or a cookbook work well!), and allow it to press on the tofu for at least 10 minutes.

Once you’re done pressing the tofu, cut it into 1 cm cubes. Place the cubes in a bowl along with the sesame oil, soy sauce, five spice, and ginger, and mix well. Set aside to marinate for at least 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, grate your carrots and beets. You want them to be as long as possible, but nice and thin! If you don’t have a grater, you can sliced them into a very fine julienne. Slice your peppers up too.

When the tofu is done marinating, get a large frying pan on high heat, and add enough oil to generously cover to bottom of the pan.

Prep a large shallow bowl with the flour. Add a pinch of black pepper to the flour for seasoning. Roll the tofu in the flour, tapping off the excess, and then add it to the pan. Fry the tofu, flipping it so it cooks evenly on all sides. Once the tofu is browned and crispy all over, remove it from the pan and pat off excess oil on a paper towel. You could also deep-fry the tofu, if you feel like going to the effort of it.

Serve with the brown rice in the bottom, then the spinach, then the sliced vegetables, then the tofu. Add as much or as little dressing as you like!

For the sweet potato bowl:

Mix the rice all together and cook either in a rice cooker, or on the stove. This amount of rice should use about 4 cups of water and take about 45 minutes. Add a splash of oil and a pinch of salt to the water used to cook the rice. Now, time to prep everything else.

Toss your sweet potatoes with some olive oil, salt, pepper, and the Za’atar. Pop them in an oven at 400 F/190 C for approx 30 minutes, until they’re crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

When the sweet potatoes have about 10 minutes left in the oven, heat a lidded frying pan over medium heat with a splash of oil in the bottom. When the oil is hot, add your broccoli and cauliflower. Cook, covered, for a couple minutes, then add your lemon juice. Stir every so often, keeping the lid on the pan, so that the vegetables steam in the lemon juice. When they become tender, season with salt and pepper, then take them off the heat.

Stir the black beans into the rice mixture, then serve with the rice on the bottom, then the broccoli and cauliflower, and top with the sweet potato. Add as much or as little dressing as you like!

 

Lemon-herb Tofu, Garlic, and Cherry Tomato Pasta.

Quite the mouthful of a title, yes. And this dish is quite a mouthful of flavor as well! Hehe. Sorry.

In all seriousness, this is a very nice pasta recipe. It makes use of a garlic gravy (sounds kinda weird, I know, but tastes great) as a sauce, and crispy pan-seared tofu.

Prep time: ~60 minutes, counting time to marinate the tofu. If making tofu marinade ahead, this dish takes ~30 minutes.
Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 500 grams long pasta (linguine, spaghetti, etc).
  • 1 tub cherry (or grape) tomatoes, halved.

For the tofu marinade:

  • 1 block firm/extra firm tofu.
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice.
  • Zest of one lemon.
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce.
  • 2 tbsp olive oil.
  • 2 tsp dried/4 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped.
  • 2 tsp dried/4 tsp fresh thyme, removed from woody stems.
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper.

For the garlic gravy:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil.
  • 6 large cloves garlic, minced/crushed.
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour.
  • 2 cups vegetable stock.
  • 1 tbsp fresh basil, shredded.
  • salt and pepper, to taste.

Cooking Instructions:

Press the tofu with a paper towel to remove all excess water. Slice into bite-sized cubes, and prick with a fork. Place ina bowl with all the other marinade ingredients, and toss. Marinate for at least 20 minutes, though I recommend getting the tofu started hours beforehand, if not overnight, to get the most out of your marinade.

When the tofu is ready, get a non-stick pan hot on medium heat, without oil, and sear all sides of the cubes until firm and crunchy, but not burnt. Burnt tofu is not nice.

Next, for the garlic gravy. Place a pan over medium heat and heat the olive oil, then saute the garlic until soft and fragrant. Add your flour and cook for a minute, stirring frequently. Pour in the vegetable stock and then simmer until the gravy is thickened. Toss in the basil, and season with salt and pepper.

Stir the tofu in the gravy, then toss the cooked pasta in this sauce. Finish the dish with the cherry tomatoes, and enjoy!

Vegetable Kabobs

A great lunch or dinner for a summer day. Served with a vinaigrette for dipping, it’s a very light meal, perfect for really hot days spent by the pool. Or lake. I recommend having a couple different salads with these kabobs (the Gillis cucumber salad and Gillis pasta salad are both great!), and maybe some corn on the cob.

Prep time: ~60 minutes, including marinating the tofu.
Gluten-free
Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups cherry/grape tomatoes, whole.
  • 2 cups pearl onions, peeled and whole.
  • 2 cups mushrooms, washed and halved.
  • 2 cups bell peppers, sliced into large squares, seeds removed.
  • 2 cups pineapple, cut into chunks.
  • 2 cup extra-firm tofu, chunked.
  • 2 tbsp oil (sesame oil or olive oil work nicely).
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce/gluten-free soy sauce.
  • 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar.
  • 1 tbsp fresh grated ginger.
  • wooden/metal skewers.
  • 8 tbsp vinaigrette (see Basic Vinaigrette for instructions).

Cooking Instructions:

Before slicing the tofu, press between two paper towels to remove extra moisture. Really squeeze the water out of that sucker. Next, slice up the tofu, and place in a large bowl. Add in the soy sauce, oil, vinegar, and ginger. Toss well, thoroughly coating the tofu. Cover with clingfilm, and place in the fridge for half an hour.

When the tofu is done, begin assembling your kabobs. Skewer the vegetables and tofu however you’d like. I like to either make a pattern with the various ingredients, or do separate kabobs of each. Place on a hot barbecue, and cook, rotating the kabobs occasionally, until nicely cooked and browned.

Serve hot, with vinaigrette on the side for dipping.