Mapo tofu is a well-loved Sichuanese dish that originated in Chengdu centuries ago. The fact that it is still served in most Sichuan restaurants (and weekly in the Sodha household) gives you some idea of its popularity. My version of this famous dish is made with meaty shiitake mushrooms, leeks, and broth, all layered over with bright Sichuan peppercorns and a magical sauce (toban djan) made of fermented fava beans. The result is flavor amplified—and that never grows old.
Note: Many big supermarkets stock Lee Kum Kee chile bean sauce (a fermented fava bean paste). The salted fermented black beans, however, are not so easily found: look online or in Asian supermarkets. If you can't find them, just leave them out and season the dish to taste.
Recipe: Mushroom Mapo Tofu
- 1½ tsp Sichuan peppercorns
- 2 tbsp canola oil
- 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
- ½ inch ginger, peeled and grated
- ½ lb fresh shiitake mushrooms, finely chopped
- 1 lb leeks (2 small), cut into thin rounds
- 2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
- 2 tbsp chile bean sauce
- 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 2 tsp salted fermented black beans, rinsed and chopped
- 14 oz firm tofu, drained and cut into ½-inch cubes
- 2 cups vegan vegetable stock
- 1½ tbsp cornstarch, mixed with 1½ tbsp water
- 1 green onion, cut into wispy long strips
1. Put the Sichuan peppercorns into a mortar and grind well. Take a sniff and revel in their strange and wonderful grapefruit smell.
2. Heat the canola oil in a large frying pan on a medium flame. Once hot, add the garlic and ginger, and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms, cook for 6 minutes, then add the leek and stir-fry for a further 2 minutes, until the leeks soften and unravel. Transfer the vegetables to a bowl.
3. Put the sesame oil, ground Sichuan peppercorns, chile bean sauce, soy sauce, and black beans into the same pan and fry for a couple of minutes, until the oil separates. Add the tofu, stir to coat, then return the vegetables to the pan. Pour over the stock, bring to the boil, then stir in the cornstarch paste and heat until the sauce thickens. Take off the heat and transfer to a serving dish. Garnish with the green onion strips and serve with plain white rice.
If you love this recipe as much as we do, check out Meera Sodha's "East: 120 Vegan and Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Beijing."