China - Mapo Tofu
Mapo tofu is hands down, my all-time favorite Chinese dish. This dish originates from the Sichuan province, so you know it’s going to have a spicy kick to it. I was originally going to do dan dan noodles, but being a perfectionist, it just was not photogenic enough. But it WAS delicious still.
If you’re comfortable enough, the best part about this dish is that you can alter it to be less spicy, or more, depending on your tolerance. I like it spicy so I typically will add a little extra chili bean sauce.
To the vegetarians in the house:
If this dish is something you’d like to make, you can just remove the ground pork altogether!
As most Chinese dishes, definitely, serve this with rice, and some veggies on the side. I imagine a cucumber salad would be heavenly and works to balance the spice. OR! A nice cold beer (Tsingtao if you want to stick with the Chinese theme) would go really well with this dish as well.
1 1/2 lbs soft or firm tofu (drained)
1/2 lbs ground pork (optional)
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp shaoxing rice wine
1/2 tsp roasted sesame oil
2 tsp sichuan peppercorns
1 tbsp oil
2 scallions (finely chopped) + 1 tbsp for garnish
2 garlic cloves (finely chopped)
2 tsp ginger (finely chopped or grated)
1 tbsp chili bean paste
1 cup stock
1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
Wrap the tofu with a paper towel and set it aside. Place something heavy on top to drain the tofu. Doing this will help absorb more flavor. Cut into bite-sized cubes.
Place the ground pork in a bowl and mix with 2 teaspoons of soy sauce, 2 teaspoons of the rice wine and sesame oil. Toss lightly with a spoon.
In a large pan or wok, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the Sichuan peppercorns until fragrant. Add the ground pork until browned and cooked, making sure to break into pieces if they are clumping together. Remove the meat and set aside in a bowl. Add the scallions, garlic, and ginger to the pan and stir-fry for about 10-15 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the chili bean paste and stir. Add the stock, remaining soy sauce (1.5 tablespoons) and rice wine (1 tablespoon) to the wok, and bring to a boil. Add the tofu and ground pork.
When it starts to boil, reduce the heat to medium and let simmer for about 5 minutes. If you are using soft tofu, don’t stir too much, otherwise, it will break easily.
In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch with 1 tablespoon of water. Mix well to form a paste and add it to the wok to thicken. Simmer for a few more minutes.
Serve with rice and garnish with chopped scallions.
Note: When it’s done cooking, I like to sprinkle some freshly ground black pepper and five-spice powder, as well as a light drizzle of sesame oil for that extra flavor profile. But that’s up to you.