Cathy’s Kitchen Prescription LLC
Ma Po Tofu (plant-based, oil-free)
An outstanding Sichuan dish that sings with lively flavors and wakes up the senses, ma po tofu is fast and simple to make. In this low-fat vegan version, we replace pork with shiitake mushrooms, use dates instead of sugar, and rely on spices instead of oils for a savory, spicy, fragrant, mouth-tingling dish that’s super nutritious, warms your innards, and puts a smile on your face. Ma Po Tofu is enjoyed hot but if you’re not accustomed to high heat, use minimal chili but enough to warm your mouth comfortably. Serve with whole rice or another whole grain and watch it disappear.
If this is your first Sichuan recipe, you’ll need to acquire some new seasonings that are easy to find online and at well-stocked Asian groceries, like doubanjiang (the fermented bean and chili paste) and douchi (fermented salted black soy beans), Chinese black vinegar and Shaoxing rice wine, Sichuan chilis and soft tofu, not to be mistaken for silken or substituted with firm. But don’t worry: Once you have them, you’ll find plenty of uses for these seasonings. They’re essential to achieve the complex delicious depth of flavor in this and other traditional Sichuan dishes, and you can use them in your own fusion creations. They are all worthy additions to your pantry and spice drawers in your plant-based kitchen.
Prep time 20 minutes Cook time 15 minutes Serves 4-5
½ yellow onion, small dice
1 Tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine
1 ½ cups dehydrated shiitake mushrooms (organic or dehydrated without added sulfites)
2 cups no-sodium veggie broth
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1” fresh ginger root, peeled, minced or grated
3 Tablespoons doubanjiang, fermented broad bean paste, chopped
1 Tablespoon douchi, fermented, salted, black soybeans, soaked, drained, chopped
6 dates, pitted, chopped
1 Tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns, toasted and ground
½ -2 dried Sichuan red chili peppers or ¼ to 1 teaspoon Sichuan red chili powder, or to taste
3 Tablespoons sesame seeds, lighted toasted
1 teaspoon light or low-sodium soy sauce
½ teaspoon Chinese black vinegar
1 block soft tofu, drained, cubed
1 Tablespoon cornstarch, dissolved in ½ cup of the veggie broth
Garnish: slivered or chopped scallion or chives
- In a bowl cover mushrooms with water and cover with a small plate to weigh them down. Rehydrate for 1 hour or until well softened. Drain and reserve mushroom water. Toss mushrooms in a food processor and chop until they uniformly minced. Set aside.
- Gently simmer tofu cubes in amble water with ½ teaspoon salt (optional) for several minutes or until cubes swell slightly. Remove pot from heat and set aside until needed.
- In a dry skillet lightly toast Sichuan peppercorns for a few minutes or until fragrant. Cool and grind in a spice or coffee grinder.
- In a dry skillet toast sesame seeds until lightly toasted. Set aside.
- Soak douchi in water for 15-30 minutes to soften and reduce salinity, then drain and chop.
- Grind chilis in a spice or coffee grinder until fine. Set aside
- In a small bowl stir ½ cup veggie broth into cornstarch, stir to dissolve.
- Heat a wok or deep skillet for 5 minutes over medium flame.
- Add onion and dry sauté for a few minutes until they soften. Toss in mushroom mince, stirring. When mix begins to adhere to pan deglaze with Shaoxing wine. As it cooks, add mushroom soaking water little by little as needed to prevent sticking.
- Stir in ginger, garlic, cook for 2 minutes.
- Add chopped doubanjiang, douchi and dates, ground Sichuan pepper and chili, stirring well.
- Add any remaining mushroom soaking water and veggie broth. Maintain at a low simmer.
- Season with soy sauce and black vinegar.
- Very gently drain tofu and slide into the wok. Soft tofu is fragile so rather than stir, spoon sauce over tofu and push from side to side to cook.
- Cook for another 5 minutes or so. Stir cornstarch slurry well before adding to wok. Gently incorporate and simmer until sauce thickens further. We’re looking for a sauce consistency that coats the tofu easily but isn’t soupy.
- Gently stir in toasted sesame seeds, cook for final few minutes, and remove from heat.
- Serve on heated plates with ample rice (or whole grain of your preference). Garnish with scallion or chives and dig in!