Chinese Cooking Recipes – Ma Po Tofu

mapo tofu

Hi guys, you know, some people don’t like tofu.  I get it, I didn’t used too either, it’s a bland protein delivery system after all and why bother if you’re not vegetarian/vegan.  This recipe got me however and now I crave it in all it’s jiggly forms, at least once a week.  We could all be healthier and none of us are getting younger, tofu is good for you, think of it like a blank canvas.  Would you eat pasta with no sauce, or plain white rice?  No of course not, tofu is the same, it takes on whatever flavors you give it and there are so many great chinese tofu recipes.  This ma po tofu recipe is my favorite though and it’s a great tofu introduction for newbies, it even has meat!  The “ma po” part of the recipe refers to an smallpox scarred (pock marked) old woman who used to make this for hungry workers in Szechuan.  Enjoy this tofu stir fry!

Equipment You Will Need

Get your trusty saute pan or wok, your cutting board and best knife.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound block of tofu, use extra firm if possible
  • 5 green onions, sliced thin on the bias (diagonal)
  • 1/4 cup cooking oil
  • 1/2 – 3/4 lb ground pork or beef (beef is tradtional but I like pork so there!)
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons Sichuan chili bean paste (this one is good too and easier to find in most markets)
  • 1 tablespoon fermented black beans (optional, I use chili garlic sauce sometimes for more heat)
  • 1 cup chicken broth/stock
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons light soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons of corn starch mixed with 4 tablespoons cold water
  • 1 teaspoon ground sichuan peppercorn
  • salt to taste

Grind up the Sichuan peppercorn in a mortar or just crush it up with the flat of your knife.  Make sure you taste as you cook, sometimes I add some ground chinese chilies to kick up the heat a bit more.

Let’s Cook!

Drain your tofu and cut it into 1 inch cubes (see the video below) and slice your green onions into thin diagonal shapes (horse ears in Chinese).  Add the oil to your wok and heat on med-high until almost smoking.  Cook the ground pork/beef until it is browned but not dry then turn the heat to medium.  Add the chili bean paste and stir fry until the oil takes on its color, about 30 seconds.  Then add the fermented beans and ground chilies (if using) and stir fry for 30 seconds more.  Pour in the chicken stock, stir and then gently add the tofu and gently mix.  Try not to break up the tofu too badly, add the sugar, soy sauce and salt and adjust as needed.  Simmer gently for about 5 minutes then add the scallions and simmer for a minute more.  Mix up the cornstarch and water and add slowly until the sauce climgs to the meat and tofu, you don’t need to use all the cornstach mixture.  Plate into a large bowl and add the ground sichuan peppercorn on top.

Platingma po tofu

Be careful not to break up the tofu as you’re mixing and plating, it should look like the picture to the right.  I think the video below is a classy way to eat this tofu stir fry but you can also scoop over a plate of rice if you want.  If you’ve not had Szechuan peppercorns before don’t be alarmed by the numbing feeling in your lips and tongue, it’s supposed to do that!

Post Prandial Thoughts

If you don’t at least like tofu after this then I can’t help you, it’s my favortie Chinese tofu recipe and a great one for the winter months.  This ma po tofu recipe reminds of Texas style chili in many ways, its hearty and comforting with a spicy kick!  I hope you will love it as much as I do, let me know how it went in the comments, enjoy!

-David B

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Sides/Salads – Braised Bacon Rice with Tomato Juice

carolina gold

Well we are officially getting into fall and just between you and I it is my favorite cooking season!  I get to fatten up for the winter and make all my favorite carb heavy meals like pizza, pasta and casseroles.  This is technically a side although it makes great eating on its own.  It is heavy so I recommend it with lighter mains like a steak or chicken grilled dish, it would be great with my healthy grilling recipe – steak with tomato salsa!  If you like spicy food this is a great side to cut the heat.  Bacon, bacon, bacon, we love the swine in my house so if you love it too don’t skimp.  Get some nice bacon from your local butcher or the better quality stuff from the supermarket, I’ve made this with the cheap stuff but it’s not the same.  I used Carolina gold rice and there’s a video about it below, however, it is hard to find outside of specialty stores so go ahead and use any decent long grain rice you can get your hands on.  Just not the microwave stuff, you’re better than that!  This makes quite a bit so if you can halve this recipe if you want but it keeps in the fridge for a week or so and reheats beautifully.

Equipment You Will Need

As always your trusty chef’s knife and a cutting board and a heavy pot of at least 4 quart size, not too crazy!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pound piece of bacon or the equivalent sliced, cut into 1/4 inch piecesbacon
  • 1 1/4 cups of chopped yellow onion
  • 2/3 cup finely chopped celery
  • 2 garlic cloves minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika (smoked if you can get it)
  • 4 cups chicken stock/broth
  • 1/2 cup tomato juice
  • 1 cup long grain white rice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped celery leaves
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • salt/pepper to taste

Again if you can get Carolina gold rice that is great but not necessary.  The celery leaves are a garnish but you have to buy celery anyway so get some with leaves on it!  I have given this a little extra kick with Tabasco but don’t overdo it!

Let’s Cook!

Heat up your pot and add the bacon, we want to render out some of the fat over low heat for about 5 minutes.  Add the onion, celery and garlic and cook for another 7-10 minutes until softened.  Stir in the mustard, cayenne, and paprika then add the stock/broth and tomato juice.  Bring everything to a boil then add the rice and simmer uncovered until most of the liquid is absorbed and the rice texture is to your liking about 20-30 minutes.  The rice should be a little wet however so don’t cook it too long.  When the texture is right add the celery leaves, butter, salt and pepper to taste.  Adjust your seasonings and let stand for 5 minutes, stir again and serve!

carolina gold rice

Plating

Not too much to add on this one, slap it alongside your entree or if you’re fancy have it in separate bowl.  It’s great by itself with some bread too!

Post Prandial Thoughts

This dish is a great way for a really nice piece of bacon to shine, it’s warm and comforting and kids love it.  It’s not really a casserole but it’s so hearty and rich that it feels like one, so great for the chillier weather!  As always, if you have any questions or thoughts let me know in the comments, enjoy!

-David B

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Sides/Salads – Green Salad with Asian Shallot Vinaigrette

asian salad

Here is a side for the steak with grilled tomato salsa healthy grilling recipe. This is super easy and makes and interesting alternative to your standard green salad with vinaigrette dressing recipes. It is a lot so I would make half or it should be fine refrigerated for a few days as long as you shake/whisk upon further use.

Equipment you will Need

Pretty simple, a big salad bowl and some tongs/servers for tossing. A small bowl to make the dressing and a whisk. Your favorite sharp knife, a cutting board and you are ready!

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1/2 cup sesame oil
  • 1 shallot, peeled and sliced thin
  • 6oz+ mixed baby greens, if you can find an Asian green mix even better
  • Salt and pepper to taste

If you are not familiar with fish sauce it is used in a variety of Southeast Asian cooking, yes it has some serious funk! Don’t be afraid, it is an addictive taste and a great punch of umami. It does stay on your hands and is pretty pungent though so try not to splash it all over the kitchen.

You will probably not find Asian greens unless you have an Asian market close to you, it’s not a big deal, this dressing works great on any green salad. If you do want to track down Asian greens though look out for tasty, mustard greens, mizuna, wasabi rocket, or pea shoots.

viniagrette dressing recipes

Let’s Cook!

In a small bowl whisk the vinegar, fish sauce, and salt and pepper together. Slowly drizzle in the sesame oil while whisking to make a properly emulsified vinaigrette. Add your sliced shallot and set it aside for 30 minutes to let the flavors combine. Taste again and adjust the seasonings before adding to the greens. Add pepper to the salad to taste, toss and serve!

Plating

Due to the fish sauce you might use separate small bowls/plates for this salad until you are sure everyone likes it. I just slap it alongside my steak but I am a dab hand with the fish sauce, I’ve even been to the factory!

Post Prandial Thoughts

This has got to be among my favorite vinaigrette salad dressing recipes, it is so easy and different from the typical balsamic or Italian style dressings. Now call me crazy but I like some heat in my food. If you wanted to grab one of those small Thai chilies, slice it up and throw it in the dressing before the 30-minute soak then go for it! YOLO as the kids say, this salad goes great with anything grilled. Let me know what you think or any questions you have in the comments, enjoy!

-David B

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