A trip to an asian food market always incurs the insatiable urge to make some Asian food. Reading a wonderful book about a Chinese girl reacquainting herself with Chinese food (Fortune Cookie by Ann Mah) left me with a desire for Mapo Tofu as she describes it as a dish I would LOVE. In the back of the book she adds a recipe, unfortunately she (willingly) omits the soy bean pastes in that recipe, so I went searching for a recipe that keeps the soybean pastes, I adore them. As this is a very traditional dish I really wanted to try it.
According to (Wikipedia) legend Mapo tofu is sometimes translated as "Pockmarked-Face Lady's Tofu". Legend says that the pock-marked old woman (má pó) was a widow who lived in the Chinese city of Chengdu. Due to her condition, her home was placed on the outskirts of the city. By coincidence, it was near a road where traders often passed. Although the rich merchants could afford to stay within the numerous inns of the prosperous city while waiting for their goods to sell, poor farmers would stay in cheaper inns scattered along the sides of roads on the outskirts of the ancient city. Another less widely accepted explanation stems from an alternate definition of 麻, meaning "numb": the Szechuan peppercorns used in the dish numb the diner's mouth. As Ching He Huang always says: the Szechuan peppercorns provide a citrusy numbing heat.
MA PO TOFU (麻婆豆腐)
1 block silken tofu
150 gr ground pork, or grouns beef or ground chicken
3 tablespoons chili bean paste
2 tablespoons cooking oil
3 tablespoons chili oil
1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns (roasted and ground to powder)
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 teaspoon fermented black bean paste
2 stalks of leeks or spring onions (chopped into 1 or 2-inch length)
2 gloves garlic (chopped)
1/2 cup water
Salt to taste
Cut the tofu into small pieces. As silken tofu breaks easily, the best way to do it is to place the entire block on a chopping board and gently make 2 or 3 horizontal slices through it, like you do when starting to chop an onion. You end up with 3 slices lying on top of eachother, now you cam make the vertical slices without breaking the tofu up. Drain the tofu and set aside. Heat up a wok and pour in the cooking oil and chili oil. Add the chopped garlic, ground pork/ beef/ chicken (whatever you use) and the chilli bean paste and stir-fry until the pork is halfway done. Then add the soy sauce and the fermented black bean paste and stir-fry until you start to smell it. Add the tofu and water; stir gently to cover the tofu with the sauce - be careful not to break it! Lower the heat and simmer for about 3-5 mins or until the sauce thickens (use some cornflour mixed in water if you want to thicken it more). Add in the roasted Sichuan peppercorn powder and chopped spring onions. Keep stirring gently so it all blends well.