It was one of those week nights I was stumped on what to make for dinner. I could possibly describing most week nights! But I stood numbly in the kitchen and tried to come up with something before hanger crept into the house. In the fridge I saw tofu and some ground pork I bought for meatballs and then boom! ma-po tofu came to mind which is interesting because … meatballs to ma-po tofu? Plus, I’ve never made it before nor have I pinned it, which is the next best thing, right?
Ma-po tofu wasn’t a staple take out or chinese restaurant dish for my family growing up. My husband actually introduced me to the dish during our dating years. Little did I know the sauce came from a little instant pack from the Asian grocery store where all you have to do is add the fresh ingredients. AKA bachelor food. I was actually quite impressed, because he’s great at visual presentation so it possibly made up a lot for the taste. And hey, I was in love and happy to have dinner made for me. It could have been buttered toast and yum, swoon. Ah, young love.
Well, back in the weeknight kitchen, I looked up the recipe and found one from epicurious.com whose recipes haven’t failed me yet. I saw a key ingredient was bean paste but didn’t specify what kind. As a home cook who rotates between Korean and Japanese food, fermented bean paste is a pantry staple. I had a choice between Japanese Miso and Korean Duenjang and I’m guessing Sichuan cuisine has its own version. I substituted the bean paste with the Korean duenjang because it has a much more pungent and intense flavor than Japanese miso, which I thought was a closer substitution to the flavors I’ve experienced in ma-po tofu. And it turned out lovely! I also happened to have some Sichuan peppercorn that I’ve never used. I toasted and crushed them to garnish I had an impression that it would be overly spicy so didn’t mix it in for the kids, but it’s actually mild and has a licorice-like flavor. Amazing. So next time, I’ll be including it in the entire dish for the kids as well.
Served with a side of veggies and mixed grain rice, I would also file this under healthy and kid friendly, and easy!
After the jump is the recipe from Epicurious.com that I adapted. Enjoy!
Note: After looking up several recipes, it seems this dish is traditionally spicy and fiery, this version with the Korean fermented bean paste was not. It just has the lovely fermented pungent umami flavors that my kids love. I’ll probably try one of the spicier versions with its just me and the hubby.
Image credit: splendidtable.org
- 1/4 cup chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons hot bean paste (I used the same amount of Korean Duenjang)
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce ( I used low sodium)
- Kosher salt to taste (I skipped this)
- 1 lb regular or soft (not silken) tofu, drained and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons corn, peanut, or canola oil
- 1/2 lb ground pork shoulder (preferably 75% lean)
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon finely minced peeled fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Japanese sesame oil
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon toasted Sichuan-peppercorn powder (yum!)
- 3 tablespoons thinly sliced scallion
Accompaniment: steamed rice
- Stir together broth, bean paste, soy sauce, and kosher salt. Set aside.
- Slide tofu into a saucepan of simmering water and keep at a bare simmer while stir-frying rest of dish.
- Heat a wok or large heavy skillet over high heat until hot and add 1 1/2 tablespoons corn oil, swirling to coat. Add pork and stir-fry, breaking up lumps and adding remaining 1/2 tablespoon corn oil if meat sticks, until no longer pink. Add garlic and ginger and stir-fry over moderate heat until very fragrant, about 2 minutes.
- Stir reserved sauce, then add to pork and bring to a simmer. Drain tofu in a large sieve and slide into sauce, stirring gently.
- Stir cornstarch mixture and add to stir-fry. Bring to a boil, stirring gently, and cook until thickened and glossy, about 15 seconds.
- Turn off heat and sprinkle with sesame oil, Sichuan-peppercorn powder to taste, and 2 tablespoons scallion. Stir once or twice, then serve sprinkled with remaining tablespoon scallion.