We had been doing so well on our self-imposed mission to eat tofu once a week. Not that I really think soy is particularly beneficial (the jury still seems to be out on that one), but we do eat a fair amount of meat, and I try to work in other sources of protein when convenient. Besides, tofu is cheap. We recently discovered silken tofu in boxes that keeps on the shelf for several weeks, so now we can stock up and have it ready to hand. Lately, though, we’ve slacked off on our tofu consumption.
After a few weeks of somewhat disorganized menu planning, I remembered that there was a box of silken tofu in the cupboard getting past its sell-by date, and a recipe for Ma Po Tofu in our Sichuan cookbook that hadn’t yet been tried, so that’s what we had for dinner one night after work. It was incredibly quick and easy, so I suspect we’ll have it again before too long.
Ma po tofu, or Pockmarked Mother Chen’s Bean Curd, is a famous Sichuanese recipe, and is usually just tofu in a spicy and numbing chile sauce, topped with a sprinkle of ground meat. I’ve never ordered it in a restaurant (we have a real dearth of Chinese restaurants around here, and my favorite Sichuan place in Seattle just burned down, darn it), but it’s a classic and very cheap to make, as long as you have a few key ingredients on hand. And the advantage of making it at home is that you can make it as spicy or mild as you want.
I made a few changes to the original recipe, mostly due to laziness. I added more beef than the dish called for, because I didn’t feel like breaking up a pound (we also wanted plenty of leftovers). I also cooked the leeks with the beef instead of adding them at the end as instructed, because I don’t think uncooked leeks are a good thing (if I had used scallions, they would have been the last thing to go in). I also completely forgot to add Sichuan pepper at the end, so it was spicy, but not numbing. Whoops.
Ma Po Tofu
adapted from Land of Plenty by Fuchsia Dunlop
- 1 package silken tofu
- peanut oil (she calls for 1/2 cup, I used a bit less)
- 1 pound ground beef
- 2 leeks, thinly sliced
- 2 heaping Tbsp Sichuan chile-bean paste (there’s really no substitute for this – look for it in Chinese groceries)
- 1 Tbsp fermented black beans (ditto)
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 tsp sugar
- 2 tsp soy sauce
- 1/2 tsp ground Sichuan pepper
Put on a pot of rice to cook.
Cube the tofu and pour very hot water over it. Leave it to steep while you do other things.
Slice the leeks into very thin rings, working at an angle.
Heat peanut oil in a large skillet or wok and add the beef. Stirfry until cooked through and beginning to get crispy. Add the leeks and continue to stirfry until they are softened. Add the chile bean paste and stir it up well with the beef and leeks, then add the fermented black beans (you can add a teaspoon or two of ground chile at this point if you want it hotter). Cook for another 30 seconds.
Pour in the stock, stir, and add the drained tofu. Stir carefully (silken tofu breaks up easily). Add sugar, soy sauce, and salt if needed. Simmer five minutes or so. Add the Sichuan pepper and serve with rice. Stir-fried cabbage or other greens make a nice side dish.