Mapo Dofu (麻婆豆腐) is one of those classic Sichuan dishes that have been made a million times in a million different Chinese restaurants around the world. Growing up vegetarian in a hippy household full of macrobiotic health food, it was fiery, grease-laden dishes like this tofu that blew my mind and sparked my taste buds. Mapu tofu is an umami-packed powerhouse of chilli and pepper that sucked me into Chinatown diners, and alerted me to the unbelievable depth possible in vegetarian cookery. Years later, it was the memory of those first plates of peppery tofu that forced me to travel around the world in search of that mouth-numbing hit of ma-la spice.
This recipe is a much simpler and faster take on the ragu-style mapo tofu that chef Danny Bowien makes by slow cooking a sichuan chilli pepper sauce using dehydrated shiitake mushrooms, tomato paste and mushroom powder/soup base. It steals the mushroom idea from Mission Chinese Food, but regresses to the much simpler wok style fry-cooking method of a more traditional mapu dofu from Sichuan province.
Mapo Tofu with Shiitake Mushroom (Vegan)
Note: Links are to Amazon affiliate, if you can’t find anything in your grocer)
Prep time: 20-30 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Makes enough for 6-8 portions
- 1K/2lbs tofu, cubed (I prefer silken, for the texture as it breaks down into the sauce)
- 125ml/1/2C vegetable oil (grapeseed/corn/canola)
- 500g/1.2lbs shiitake mushrooms, diced
- (If you can’t find them fresh, order dry shiitake online)
- 50g/1.8oz Sichuan peppers, whole (dry toasted in a wok)
- 50g/1.8oz Sichuan peppers, ground to a fine powder
- 125ml/1/2C doubanjiang (broad bean chilli paste)
- 75ml/1/4C tomato paste
- 750ml/3C mushroom (or other veggie) stock (simmering on a back burner)
- 30ml/2tbsp mushroom powder/MSG
- 125ml/1/2C garlic, smashed, diced and pasted
- 125ml/1/2C ginger, grated
- 75ml/1/4C Sichuan chilli oil
- 1 bunch of scallions, finely sliced for garnish
- 75ml/1/4C corn starch (diluted in equal amount water to form a slurry)
- Prepare all ingredients, as above. Open any cans, cut all the vegetables, measure out and have all your spices and stock and corn starch slurry within arms reach. When you’re cooking with a wok, and high heat, everything happens fast. You may also want to make your rice before hand, so it’s ready to serve as soon as your mapo tofu is cooked.
- Heat a wok, or large skillet over a high flame. Once your cooking surface is hot, as in singe the hairs on the back of your hand hot, add the oil and swirl it around the cooking surface.
- Add shiitake mushroom and cook off the liquid, stirring rapidly until they don’t give off any steam and start to brown. This could take 3-7 minutes, depending on how hot your stove is, whether it’s electric or gas.
- Add garlic and ginger, stirring rapidly for 30 seconds to a minute, until the aroma of garlic and ginger sweetens and begins to brown. Working quickly, stir in the tomato paste and ground sichuan pepper powder. Actively stir for 1-2 minutes, until the mixture darkens and resumes a fast boil.
- Dump in your mushroom powder/MSG and pour in your already simmering stock, bit by bit, stirring quickly to incorporate into your sauce. Simmer for a minute to get the flavours humming together.
- Turn down the heat to low and stir in the corn starch slurry to thicken the sauce into a gravy with a beautiful glossy, sheen.
- Now, very gently slide in your cubed tofu and carefully cover in the sauce, trying not to break the cubes, as they will inevitably break down on their own.
- Pour out your tofu onto a serving platter, or tray, and sprinkle with whole toasted sichuan peppers, sliced scallions and a swirl of the sichuan chill oil.
Note: Ladle this fireball of delicious tofu onto steaming bowls of rice while it’s piping hot and watch as your vegan friends descend into the ecstasy of an umami bomb that will numb their mouths faster than a visit to a novocaine happy dentist.