I’ve always loved mabo tofu, the Sichuan tofu and ground meat dish that’s both spicy and numbing in its true form, which contains both chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorns.
Many of my friends cannot tolerate the “mala” characterictic of Sichuan cooking – namely the numbing heat – so I adapted a version I can feed to almost everyone. While it lacks Sichuan peppercorns and bean paste, it still has heat and complexity, and I use a higher ratio of ground meat than is normally used to contrast the soft texture of the tofu.
This recipe uses both chili garlic sauce and red pepper flakes in oil, both of which may be purchased in Asian markets. The chili garlic sauce looks a little like thick red pasta sauce. The red pepper flakes in oil will be deep red and the pepper flakes will be mixed with the oil but not ground to a paste. This product has a fresher look and will have some texture, since it’s not cooked. Often served on the side as a condiment, I like its brightness when added to this dish. There are many types of chili in oil, so make sure you get one that is plain or has only peanuts added. These items will be packed in jars and located in the condiment/sauces section of the market.
Finally, if you don’t have a wok, you can use some kind of heavy, slope-sided pan, but I can’t stress enough how valuable it would be for you to have one flat-bottomed, cast iron wok in your possession. It won’t stick, needs no wok ring, stays put (it weighs a ton), and retains heat. I included a photo of mine under the recipe. In that wok is stir-fried pork chops and red peppers. If you want the recipe, contact me.
Renate’s Mabo Tofu
Serves 4; serve with rice
2-1/2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1-1/2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger
1 green onion, medium chop
1 red chili pepper, seeded, deveined and finely minced
1 pound ground pork
1 tablespoon chili garlic sauce
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes in oil
3 tablespoons dry sherry
1/4 cup soy sauce (real soy sauce, please)
1 pound soft tofu, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 3 tablespoons water
1). Heat oil in wok over medium flame until good and hot – ingredients should sizzle
2). Add garlic and ginger; stir-fry for 30 seconds (if you don’t have wok tools, use a heat-proof spatula)
3). Add green onion and chili pepper; stir-fry for 30 seconds
4). Add ground pork and stir-fry until cooked but not overcooked
5). Stir in chili garlic sauce and red pepper flakes in oil
6). Stir in sherry and stir-fry mass for 15 seconds
7). Stir in soy sauce
8). Add tofu, carefully folding it in so cubes remain as intact as possible
9). When mass is bubbling pour in cornstarch mixture and fold in gently until completely incorporated and sauce is slightly thickened
10). Serve and enjoy!