Tofu Feature Month: Mapo Tofu

Mapo Tofu

I FINALLY found silken tofu in St. John’s.  I’ve been looking for it for what feels like forever.  In celebration of my recent discovery, and the Pie’s insistence that he needs to slim down in time for Kristopf’s wedding next July, I have decided to honour the long-standing request of my friend Danger K and start finding new ways to cook with tofu.  You might know Danger K: she recently got married (on our wedding anniversary, no less), and she and her husband planned a big fancy wedding by begging, bartering, and borrowing everything they could.  Their expenses out of pocket?  About two hundred bucks.  You can read about the process on their blog, Project Priceless.  So they’re a little bit famous back in Ottawa.  And I can say that I knew her when.  We went to high school together.  In fact, she had a huge crush on one of my brothers (DON’T DENY IT DANGER K I HAVE PROOF).  Not that I’m going to hold that against her or anything.

Mapo Tofu

So.  Cooking with tofu.

My previous experiences cooking with tofu (not in eating it, just cooking it) focused mainly on tossing cubes of it into Broccofu, Peanut Butter Spaghetti, or the occasional stir-fry.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but’s not using tofu in all its myriad manifestations.  This fall, the Pie and I aim to change our ways, and this recipe is the beginning.  September will be a sort of Tofu Feature Month.

Mapo doufu (mapo tofu) is a traditional spicy dish from the Sichuan province of China and involves sautéing tofu pieces in a suspension of a paste made of beans and chilis.  What I found particularly interesting about this dish is that I normally think of tofu as a protein-replacement for meat, but this recipe calls for a combination of tofu AND beef or pork.  Very unique (for me, at least).

Mapo Tofu

A note on substitutions:  this recipe calls for chili bean paste, a spicy gooey mixture of fermented soy beans and chilis (I’m thinking like a super-hot miso).  I didn’t have such a thing, so I used black bean paste instead with the chilis, which is why my sauce isn’t that signature reddish colour.  The recipe also requires the use of rice wine, which, not being a wine-drinker, I also don’t have, so we used rice wine vinegar instead.  Finally, the recipe I used made little sense and required some serious moderation, so I haven’t linked you to it.   I wasn’t a huge fan.

Start by making up enough rice for two people.

Mapo Tofu

Drain and pat dry one block soft tofu (I used extra-firm silken tofu because I wanted to see what it was like).  Cut it into 1″ cubes.

Mapo Tofu

Slice up 4-5 green onions and save about 1/4 of the green tips (sliced) for garnish.

Mapo Tofu

In a skillet or wok over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and sauté 4oz ground beef or pork until cooked.  Drain and set aside.

In the same pan, heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil.  Add 1 teaspoon minced ginger, the green onion that isn’t what you saved for garnish, 2 whole dried chilis, and 1 teaspoon ground peppercorns (Sichuan if you’ve got ’em).  Cook that for about a minute.

Mapo Tofu

Add the ground meat back in, as well as 3 tablespoons chili bean paste, 2 teaspoons minced garlic, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon rice wine, and 2 teaspoons brown sugar.  Cook that for another minute or so, just so everything can get acquainted.

Mapo Tofu

Add in the cubed tofu as well as 1/4 cup vegetable stock (or beef, or pork) and let that simmer for 15 minutes.   Stir occasionally, but don’t let the tofu fall apart.

Mapo Tofu

When it’s nearing done, dissolve 1 tablespoon corn starch in a little bit of water and pour that in as well.  Stir gently until it thickens.

Mapo Tofu

Serve over rice and garnish with the remaining green onions.  SPICY!

Mapo Tofu

Newfie Miso

I have been craving miso soup for forever and a half.

From what I’ve read, miso soup is characterized by a stock of dashi, which is composed of dried fish and/or seaweed and/or mushrooms, into which softened miso, or fermented soybean paste, is suspended.

The rest of the ingredients are up to you, really.  Traditionally the ingredients are limited to two or three items, chosen for their contrast: items that float versus items that sink, contrasting colours, textures, shapes, and flavours.   But you can put in whatever you want.I had a fun time at the Magic Wok Grocery this afternoon and I went a little crazy with possible ingredients. In this case, though, I wanted to limit myself, so I picked out preserved turnip (rather salty and crunchy), which I cut into slivers:Kai-lan, or Chinese broccoli, which is both sweeter and more sour than regular broccoli, if that makes any sense.  It’s called ‘broccoli’ for that little vestigial flower thing at the top.Also it’s nice and crisp.  I chopped it into small pieces and sort of julienned the stalks:Dried mushrooms.  Nuff said about those.  I bought all sorts of weird fungus, but I decided to take it easy on my first try and went with a western medley:A nice dark soba (buckwheat noodles) which I broke in half for easier eating:Dashi is non-existent here, so I decided to McGuyver up my own.  I used a combination of powdered vegetable stock and dulse flakes.  It’s the dulse that makes this recipe into a Newfoundland recipe, as the stuff is harvested right off the coast here.  The dried mushrooms I added to the stock early so that their essences could mingle as well.

Here is what I did.  I’ll try to quantify things for you, though I mostly just went with “some” and “a little”.

Start with about 4 cups water.  Add in 2 heaping tablespoons powdered vegetable stock and bring to a boil.Reduce heat, plop in about 3/4 cup dried mushrooms and 2 tablespoons dulse flakes and allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes.  This is so your mushrooms can absorb all the water they need.Add 1/4 cup slivered preserved turnip.  It gets less salty once it’s in the soup.About ten minutes before serving, chuck in a small bunch of soba.Five minutes before serving, add in about 1 1/2 cups chopped kai-lan.Dissolve about 1 1/2 tablespoons miso (I used the hatchi variation) in the broth (it’s easier to do this if you scoop out some of the broth and mash it into that first) and serve hot.

Miso is meant to be made up fresh each time, but I hear that leftover soup is also good cold.  I  could be wrong but I’m taking it for lunch tomorrow so we shall see.