A couple of years ago I stumbled across the most exquisite looking cookery book. Its cover drew me in and before I knew it I was leafing through the pages drooling over the divine recipes. Some of the ingredients I was unaccustomed to, and I think it was this that really attracted me to buy the book. Who wants to remain in their culinary comfort zone, not me, so with a youthful enthusiasm I purchased it. Since it has been in my possession I have lovingly poured over it, and if the truth be told I have even been known to take it to bed to read and study the recipes on numerous occasions. The book in question is called ‘Balance & Harmony, Asian Food’, by the Australian chef Neil Perry, who I had previously never heard of before. I personally find it rare to come across a cookery book where I actually want to cook more than a dozen dishes from it, but with Neil’s book I really want to try them all.
Its beautifully set out into chapters focusing on basic techniques and recipes then moving onto advanced recipes and banquet menus. The dishes are beautifully photographed and styled, interspersed with stunning old prints of Chinese women in traditional dress. If there are prizes for stunning cookery books this would surely win the top prize. Oh, and for the sceptical amongst you, although I am sure there are none, I am not being paid to say any of these kind words about Neil Perry’s book.
A wonderful recipe from his book to share with you, dear reader, is Ma Po Tofu, or as it is also affectionately known, Pockmarked-Face Lady’s Tofu. Put off? Don’t be, as you are in for a treat and you’ll be doing cartwheels of delight after your first mouthful. Mark my words.
To read the full story of where this recipe derives its name click here. The dish is a Sichuan classic, and is cooked with pork or beef mince with tofu, in a spicy chilli bean sauce. Not the type of chilli that has you gasping for milk, but one that urges you to have more mouthfuls, so please do not be put off by thinking it will be too hot. Sure it’s feisty, but it has a wonderful balance of sweetness and spiciness, which prevents it being too overpowering. If you are a vegetarian you can also enjoy the dish, by simply omitting the pork or beef. Tofu is easy to find and tastes delicious in this dish. It lasts for ages in the fridge so I usually keep a stock of it ready for when I feel the urge to cook and eat Ma Po Tofu.
Its one of my favourite things to eat at the moment and is absolutely guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of anyone who eats it. I’ll introduce you to other recipes from Neil’s book soon, but try this one first and let me know how you get on.
Ma Po Tofu
Serves 2 hungry people
300g of silken tofu, cut into 2cm cubes (I use slightly more, see packet above!)
2 tbsp of vegetable oil
500g minced pork (Neil uses 200g)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 spring onions (scallions), sliced
2 tbsp hot bean paste (I use Lee Kum Kee’s Chilli Bean)
125 ml (4 fl oz/1/2 cup) fresh chicken stock (if you have it, otherwise I tend to use Kallo organic chicken stock cube – sorry Neil)
1 tsp of shaoxing
1 tsp of light soy sauce
1/2 tsp dark soy sauce
2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp sea salt
a good pinch of Sichuan pepper
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1. Cube the tofu into 2cm/3/4 inch cubes and set aside.
2. Heat the wok/pan until it is smoking and then add the vegetable oil. When the oil is hot add the minced pork and stir-fry until browned. This won’t take longer than 5 minutes.
3. Then add the garlic, spring onion and bean paste and stir into the pork.
4. After a couple of minutes add the stock, shaoxing, soy sauces, sugar and salt and bring to the boil.
5. Gently add the tofu, being careful not to break the cubes, and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Allow the liquid to thicken slightly.
6. Add the Sichuan pepper and sesame oil and gently mix together.
Serve with a bowl of steamed rice.