Thursday, July 02, 2009

June 28, 2009: Mapo tofu and Chinese greens

Jo's pumpkin and cumin soup isn't the first recipe we tried from the warming entries in our recent giveaway. On the very day that we read QuinnT's vegetarian version of Mapo Tofu, we resolved to cook it for dinner. QuinnT substitutes the traditional pork or beef mince with TVP, and promises that "It's spicy enough to tickle your nose and warm you up on a chill(i) winter's day."

Let me tell you straight up that this recipe is the business. I must admit to wimping out on the chilli dosage, and I regret that, but it's still a cracker of a dish. We had more trouble than I expected in tracking down Chinese fermented broad beans and Chinese fermented black beans - in the end we picked out jars of black bean sauce and spicy soya bean paste from Laguna. (Any tips on where to buy the original ingredients? Please let us know!) Salty, warming and with a comforting texture, this dish reheated brilliantly the next day as QuinnT also advised.

Mapo Tofu's a little short on the vegetable matter so in addition to steaming some rice, we cooked up some Chinese-style greens in vegetarian oyster sauce on the side. The guidelines and recipe at Rasa Malaysia are very helpful - while I didn't get the texture of the blanched vegetables quite right, the oyster and garlic sauces were dreamy. Unfortunately, reheated lunchtime greens aren't nearly as good as freshly blanched ones but they couldn't mar an otherwise successful new meal.

Mapo Tofu
(adapted from a recipe shared by QuinnT)

1/2 cup TVP, not yet rehydrated
1 'beef' stock cube
500g tofu
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tablespoons chilli paste, to taste
1 teaspoon ground Szechuan peppercorns
1 1/2 tablespoons black bean sauce (try to get Chinese fermented black beans instead if you can)
1 1/2 tablespoons spicy soya bean paste (try to get Dou ban jiang/Chinese fermented broad beans instead if you can)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
water or vegetable stock, as needed
1 tablespoon cornflour
2 scallions, chopped

Put the TVP in a small bowl and crumble over the 'beef' stock cube. Pour over 1/2 cup of boiling water and set the TVP aside to rehydrate.

Chop the tofu into cubes and place them in a bowl. Sprinkle over the salt, then cover the tofu with boiling water and let it stand.

Heat the oil in a wok, then add the garlic, chilli paste and Szechuan pepper. Stir-fry them until fragrant, then add the bean pastes, sugar and soy sauce. Stir through the TVP.

Gently drain the diced tofu. Once the sauce is bubbling, add them to the mix and make sure they're well coated in sauce. Simmer the mixture for 10 minutes on low heat, adding a little extra water or stock if it looks too dry. (This is a good time to prep the Chinese greens!)

In a small cup, mix the cornflour with just enough water to form a paste. Stir the paste through the tofu and sauce. After allowing just a minute or two for thickening, transfer your Mapo Tofu to a serving dish and sprinkle over the scallions.

Chinese greens in 'oyster' sauce
(adapted from a recipe and tips from Rasa Malaysia)

4 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil
large bunch of assorted Chinese greens (I think we used bok choy and choy sum)
2 tablespoons vegetarian oyster sauce
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon sugar
several dashes of white pepper

In your smallest saucepan, heat up 2 teaspoons of oil. Stir fry the minced garlic until it just begins to turn light brown, then transfer the garlic oil to a bowl and set it aside. The garlic will brown up further as it sits in the hot oil.

Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Blanche the greens in the water for 20-30 seconds, in batches if you need to, draining them as soon as they're slightly wilted.

Back in the smallest saucepan, stir together the remaining oil, oyster sauce, water, sugar and white pepper until they're a smooth sauce.

Arrange the blanched greens on a plate, pour over the oyster sauce and then the garlic oil. Serve and eat immediately!


  1. I have a crazy addiction to Mapo Tofu - but struggle to find a good vego version..there is one place in Footscray that does a mean one. I may have to give this a go!! YUM!!!

  2. Hi Cindy, you should be able to find the fermented black beans from asian groceries in Springvale. Probably Richmond/Box Hill/Footscray would have them too, but I don't venture out that way so not certain. We use them a lot at home, and call them "Dao Si", which is the Cantonese name for it.

    Check out the wikipedia entry for it: They have the Chinese characters on there for it. If you can print those characters out and take it to an asian/chinese grocery store they should be able to help you find what you need.

    Don't know about the fermented broad beans though.

    Oh, and from memory there was a Ma Po Tofu recipe done during the Buddha Day cooking demos. Just found an online copy of it -

  3. You should, Jodes, it's awesome! Funnily enough, we spotted a restaurant selling vegetarian Mapo Tofu just as we were busily buying ingredients for our own version. Can't remember the name of the restaurant but I think it was on Little Bourke St, between Swanston and Russell Streets.

    Thanks for that extra info, Will! We've had another kind reader email us some photos with the Chinese characters on the labels, so maybe I'll print that out and take it with me next time. Looks like the Buddha Day version skips the fermented bean challenge altogether. :-)

  4. Oh, awesome. I am going through a meatless phase again and you have now reminded me of a good staple, without the pork.
    Yum...mapo tofu makes me sooo happy.

  5. Jess, I would love to see you blog your version!

  6. OO OO OO!!
    possibly my favourite chinese dish ever. must make. ohhhh goodness. *drool*
    they serve a veg version of this at Shanghai Dumpling House on tattersall's lane with peas and carrots instead of the pork. its pretty tastey but when we visited last week they were refusing to serve anything on that page of the menu. lame. lame lame. oh well. there's a new asian food store in the upper mountains now (before then we'd have to venture into sydney to get things) so maybe i'll be able to stir this one up soon!!


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  8. Just finished eating this. As a side, did stir fry of broccoli and mushrooms with almonds. I used William's advise and printed out wiki pages for the fermented beans, the shop assistant at the Asian grocer was able to get me a jar of each, great advise. The dish was fantastic, this will become a regular dish at our house!

  9. Hi Lena! If you can track down the right ingredients in your local shop, you will not be able to stop making this. :-)

    Hi Nudbot - glad you enjoyed this as much as we did. Michael has found some new, improved ingredients and made it again already. :-D

  10. Have a look at this recipe; I have been making this version for a couple of years but have modified it a little by using Quorn mince rather than the king mushrooms (this saves endless fine chopping of mushies!)I also add a stock cube for extra richness - given that the original version uses flesh!