Get your ingredients lined up because this tongue-tingling dish only takes minutes to cook.
I find that sichuan peppercorns are the perfect foil for ghastly weather. I’ve also been meaning to do an article about mapo tofu forever, so I’m sorry that it’s taken this long. It is a benchmark of Sichuan cuisine and one of my favourite comfort dishes.
Mapo means “pockmarked old woman”, a somewhat sledgehammer translation, and is thought to be a reference to the woman who invented the dish in Chengdu in Sichuan province. An alternative explanation is that the name is a metaphor for the appearance of the tofu in the dish. It is traditionally made with beef mince, more commonly with pork mince, and although I prefer a mapo tofu with meat, this version is vegan and somewhat simplified. Fermented bean paste is one of my favourite Chinese ingredients; I use the Lao Gan Ma brand – in its place, use a similarly umami paste such as miso. Sacrilege perhaps, but it will do in a pinch.
The key is to have all of your ingredients on hand and ready to go, as the cooking part doesn’t take long at all. I find that this is best either on its own or served with steamed jasmine rice on the side, to soak up all of that spicy goodness.
* Recipe: Slow-cooked squid with bacon and chickpeas
* Recipe: Sam Mannering’s hand-cut noodles with pork, pickled ginger and spring onion
* Recipes: Sichuan pepper squid plus hot mango salad by Sam Mannering
* Recipe: Tingle your tongue with Sam Mannering’s pork, green beans and chilli, with Sichuan pepper
A QUICK MAPO TOFU FOR THE START OF WINTER
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 10 mins
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 thumbs’ worth of ginger, peeled and grated
3 tbsp fermented bean paste (see note above)
3-4 tbsp Chinese chilli paste, to taste
2 tbsp soy sauce
Handful of green beans, washed
1 cup vegetable stock
600g soft tofu, cubed
1 spring onion, sliced
2 tsp sichuan peppercorns, toasted and crushed
In a wok or large frying pan over a moderately high heat, add the sesame oil, let it heat up and follow with the ginger and bean paste. Fry quickly until fragrant, then follow with the chilli paste, soy sauce and green beans. Give it a minute or two more before adding a little stock, just enough to make a bit of a sauce, before adding the tofu and tossing about to coat and heat through. Once the mixture is bubbling up again, throw in the spring onion and scatter the crushed sichuan peppercorns over the top. Taste and season with more soy sauce before serving.