thank me later
If I actually manage to graduate from university, I’ll owe it all to this one dish. Mapo tofu has saved my life on multiple occasions. It’s what I turn to when money is tight, fat stores are low and stress is super high – so basically all the time then, yeah?
Mapo tofu is equal parts comforting and invigorating. That super rich sauce and aroma that makes you feel like you’ve truly come home is accompanied by that special kind of spice (called mala in Chinese) that makes your lips tingle and your cheeks fill with hot blood. It’s a warm hug followed by a slap in the face. And whether it’s the hard-going Sichuan winter, or the biting Scottish wind, this dish will guarantee your survival. (see my vintage rabcooks gallery at the bottom for evidence!)
I was lucky enough to have someone very special in my life teach me this dish when I moved to university. It’s something we ate often due to how cheap and delicious and warming it is. Eventually I added the odd twist here and there and we both agreed that my new version, for all its inauthenticity, was the way we liked it best.
And despite being the biggest carnivore I’ve ever met, he even conceded that my vegan version wasn’t half bad! That being said, if you want to slide a wee bit closer towards an authentic recipe, sub the aubergine and mushrooms for 500g pork mince.
Just a wee note on the crucial ingredient: a paste made of spicy fermented broad beans and black beans. This has so many different names! My preferred brand (Lee Kum Kee – I’m such an indoctrinated Hong Konger haha) calls it spicy bean paste, it sometimes gets called douban, sometimes just mapo tofu sauce. But if you think you’ve seen it in your local asian supermarket, just double check the ingredients to see if it’s roughly what I’ve described!
ingredients (makes about 5 portions if served with rice or mantou)
4 cloves garlic
1 punnet chestnut mushrooms
3 spring onions
1 block silken tofu
3 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tbsp spicy bean paste
1 tbsp chilli oil
1 tbsp gochujang (literally so inauthentic it hurts haha)
2 tbsp light soy sauce (light as in colour, not sodium content)
2 tbsp shaoxing rice wine
1 vegetable stock cube
100mls boiling water
White pepper to taste
- finely chop the onion and garlic, and grate the aubergine and mushrooms. Alternatively, just blitz them in a food processor.
- heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan and when hot, add the onions, aubergine and mushrooms. Cook them out until a lot of water has evaporated, then add the garlic and mix.
- mix the boiling water, stock cube, bean paste, chili oil, gochujang, soy sauce and rice wine together and stir it into the vegetables. Turn the heat down to its lowest setting.
- fill a large pot with boiling water and add a 1/2tbsp of salt. Bring it to a furious boil. Cut the silken tofu into 1cm cubes and add them to the boiling water for 20 minutes.
- drain the tofu and add it to the vegetables. Don’t mix it too vigorously or the tofu will break up! Instead just coat the tofu in the sauce.
- remove from the heat and top with a mountain of chopped spring onions. Serve while piping hot for maximum hygge-ness!
now my favourite part of the vintage rabcooks series: reminiscing over some horrend photos of making mapo in the old days, before æ.s.t.h.e.t.i.k. was a priority haha.