In my first months of blogging, way back in the middle of 2011, I posted one of my absolute favourite recipes, Ma Po Tofu, which is a Sichuan classic and is seriously addictive – if you like chilli that is. It is incredibly easy to cook and after a manic day it is the perfect pick-me-up-food that takes no time to prepare. Over the years however, I have found that I am increasingly making it without the pork mince element and keeping it to a more vegetarian dish by including simply tofu and fresh (or sometimes frozen) spinach.
Recently in Hong Kong I began to judge eating establishments on how well they could cook Ma Po Tofu and Dan Dan Noodles as I had a acquired a taste for both dishes.
Tofu I know divides opinion, but I am definitely in the camp of someone who loves it. It wasn’t an immediate love affair, but one that has grown over time to the extent that I always have tofu in the house, ready and waiting for me to make a last minute Ma Po Tofu dish or my other favourite tofu dishes, roasted harlequin squash with tofu, kale and coriander in a miso curry paste, black pepper tofu and soba noodles with tofu, aubergine and mango. Seriously give them all a try – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Tofu, or bean curd as it is also known, is hugely nutritious, versatile and a great vehicle for flavour. It’s rich in protein and low in fat, especially saturated fat. Yes, eaten on its own it is rather plain, but the point of tofu is to incorporate it with other flavours which it will help to enhance and lift. There are a myriad of different types of tofu, but the one I tend to use the most is ‘firm, silken tofu’ . I am going to be cooking some more tofu dishes over the course of this year, hoping that I may convert a few followers to the joys of tofu eating.
So here is what you need for the vegetarian version of the dish.
Vegetarian Ma Po Tofu
349g silken tofu (or a similar amount)
2 large handfuls of fresh spinach
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
2 spring onions, chopped
2 tbsp of chilli bean sauce (Lee Kum Kee’s I find works really well)
125ml of vegetable stock (fresh or a cube)
1 tsp shaoxing wine
1 tsp of soy sauce (light or dark)
2 tsp of sugar
1/4 tsp of sea salt
a good pinch of crushed Sichuan peppercorns
1/2 tsp of sesame oil
1. Cut the tofu into small (2cm) cubes and place to one side.
2. In a shallow pan heat the vegetable oil and then add the garlic and spring onions, stirring for around 30 seconds. Then add the chilli bean paste and mix into the garlic and spring onions.
3. After a minute add the vegetable stock, shaoxing wine, soy sauce, sugar and salt and bring to the boil.
4. Add the spinach to the pan and gently fold into the hot sauce.
5. Once the spinach has begun to wither add the tofu and carefully spoon the sauce over the tofu, making sure not to break up the cubes. Leave to gently simmer for a couple of minutes.
6. Serve into a large bowl and sprinkle the Sichuan peppercorns and sesame oil and gently mix together.
Serve alongside small bowls of rice and hot cups of piping Jasmine/Chinese tea.
Perfect for this cold snowy weather.