Who else enjoyed the 60 degree weather this past weekend? It was a sweet taste of spring, and now I guess winter is fighting back. If you just want to stay in during these cold spells, preferably under the covers and huddled up to anything warm (a dog, a spouse, or a mug of hot chocolate), then we are one of the same! Some soup or stew is also a must. To me, this Mapo Tofu is one of my favorite comfort foods for snowy days. It is one of the most popular dishes from the Sichuan province in China, a region known for its fiery, mouth-numbing dishes. The red chili bean sauce turns up the heat and the ground pork makes the sauce rich and savory. Spicy food lovers rejoice!
What makes Sichuan cuisine unique? There are two main ingredients that are most commonly found in its dishes:
First, ground Sichuan peppercorns (花椒) give Sichuan dishes their well known “numbing” effect. Believe it or not Sichuan peppercorns are not related to black peppercorns at all. They come from ash shrubs and produce a unique tingling sensation in your mouth. Sichuan pepper is also used in dishes like Kung Pao Chicken and Dan Dan noodles. If you can’t find ground Sichuan pepper, buy the whole peppercorns and grind them up with a mortar and pestle.
While Sichuan peppercorns inspired Mapo Tofu’s name, La Dou ban Jiang (辣豆瓣酱), a fermented chili bean paste, is known to give the dish its distinct red color. Different brands of this bean paste will have varying levels of saltiness and spiciness. The darker the color of the paste, the saltier and spicier it is.
You can find most of these ingredients at your local Asian market. I’ve also attached links below in the recipe notes to buy them online for your convenience.
My family has always made this dish with ground pork, but I know others have used ground beef. Feel free to omit the meat altogether to make this vegetarian.
Hope this warms you up on these cold winter days!
- Oil for stir-frying
- 1/3 lb ground pork
- 1 Tbsp La Dou Ban Jiang / Spicy bean paste (Less if you prefer a milder version)
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 package of soft tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1/2 cup chicken stock or water
- 1/2 tsp. soy sauce
- 3 scallions, chopped (whites and greens separated)
- 1/4 tsp. ground Sichuan peppercorns
- 1 T. ginger, minced
- 1 T. Shaoxing cooking wine
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 3 T. water
- 1.5 tsp. cornstarch
- Heat up a wok until a bead of water evaporates immediately. Add 2 teaspoons of oil to the wok and sear the ground pork until done. Remove from the pan.
- Make your slurry by combining the water and cornstarch in a small bowl. In the wok, add the la dou ban jiang, and swirl it with a wooden spoon or spatula until fragrant but not burnt. Add minced garlic, ginger, and the chopped whites of the green onions. Continue to stir-fry for 30 seconds.
- Gently incorporate the tofu into the sauce. Add the ground pork back in, followed by the chicken stock. Bring to a boil and then simmer on low for 5 minutes.
- Add soy sauce, cooking wine, salt, and Sichuan pepper. Taste and add salt if needed.
- Mix the cornstarch and water slurry into the wok. Gently stir-fry to incorporate it in. Simmer for another minute.
- Transfer to a bowl and sprinkle the remaining green scallions over the top. Serve over rice.