Ma Po Tofu is a dish from the Szechuan province of China and I LOVE it! Szechuan peppercorns give a numbing, heat and with the chillies you get a warm, lingering heat. Rich with soy and sherry it is a wonderful sauce. It is amazing! I have made this gluten-free and vegan version to enjoy the wonderful texture and flavour of tofu (good tofu is amazing) and the fabulous sauce.
I first had this in Tennessee when I spent a few months working there in the mid-90s. It was so spicy it was difficult to eat but it was addictive. I couldn’t stop eating it even though my mouth was burning. I kept on going back. I loved it! That version had garden peas in it which worked really well.
Ma Po tofu traditionally also contains pork or beef in addition to the tofu – you won’t miss that here. The key ingredient is Szechian pepper corns – readily available – that give a floral, numbing heat (which I think is the addictive element!). Most authentic recipes also contain spicy bean paste (doubanjiang – a broad bean paste). There are lots of regional version of bean paste made with different names. I cannot find a bean paste which is both vegan and gluten free. However it is a fermented, spicy paste with a deep, rich flavour. In order to get something approaching that flavour I have added sauerkraut (fermented cabbage – popular in China) and a mild, smoky chilli powder. You might want to reduce the amount of chilli depending on how much you like spice but you can experiment.
This recipe is very quick and easy and will take a maximum of 30 minutes from start to finish.
I adore Ma Po Tofu served really simply with Perfect Plain Rice.
Allergy Information – Ma Po Tofu
Ma Po Tofu is gluten-free and vegan as well as… celery free, coconut free, garlic free, lupin free, mustard free, nightshade free*, onion free, peanut free, sesame free, tree nut free.
*For nightshade free leave out the chilli – it will be quite a different dish but still great.
Top Tips – Ma Po Tofu
Tofu is a little bit controversial. Some people LOATH it – I get it. When I first tried tofu, I didn’t get it, it wasn’t nice. BUT if you buy good quality tofu from an Asian/ Oriental store you are making tracks… The tofu you get in ‘normal’ supermarkets is horrible. I would never waste my money (or time) on that stuff. Then, if you treat it right and make a meal it works in, I promise you will love it…
If you don’t have a wok use a large deep frying pan.
Recipe – Ma Po Tofu
Preparation time 5 minutes
Cooking time 20 minutes
Ingredients – Ma Po Tofu
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
0.5 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns
3 dried red chillies (to taste/ chilli heat) (*leave out for nightshade free)
1 tablespoon fermented black beans finely chopped
30 grams root ginger
1 teaspoon mild, smokey, chilli powder (*leave out for nightshade free)
0.25 teaspoon asafoetida
100 grams sauerkraut (plain – without caraway or other spices)
500 grams firm tofu – drained and dried with kitchen paper
2 teaspoons cornflour
2 tablespoons dry sherry
1.5 tablespoon tamari or gluten free soya sauce
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
250 millilitres boiling water
1 fresh red chilli (to taste/ chilli heat) (*leave out for nightshade free)
Method – Ma Po Tofu
1. Grind the Szechuan pepper corns and dried chillies in a pestle and mortar. Add three tablespoons oil to the pan and on a low(ish) heat gently heat the mixture to infuse the oil for a few minutes – do not allow to brown
2. Roughly chop the fermented black beans and grate or finely chop the ginger (no need to peel, just take off the worst bits)
3. Increase the heat and add the asafoetida, chilli powder, black beans and ginger to the pan, fry for a minute or two – keep the ingredients moving. Add the sauerkraut followed by the sherry, tamari, rice wine vinegar. Keep moving for 30 seconds. Add the boiling water and stir well
4. Place the cornflour in a cup and add a few tablespoon of water to slake it – stir well to make sure there are no lumps and add to the pan and stir well
5. Cut the tofu in to small cubes (~1.5 centimetres) and add to the pan. Ensure the tofu is covered by the sauce and cook for approximately 15 minutes, stirring every few minutes, until the liquid is reduced by around 25%
6. Finely slice the fresh red chilli and stir in and decorate the dish. Serve with plain rice.