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Mapo Dou Fou

Mapo Dou Fou is a spicy Sichuan dish that reputedly gets its name from the small pox-scarred lady who originally made this dish in the late 19th Century. Dou Fu is the Chinese name for tofu, and Mapo translates as "Pock-marked Old Woman"! Whatever its origin, we love this spicy tofu dish, hallmarked by Sichuan peppercorns, chillies, and ginger. We've included recipes for chilli bean paste and Chinese vegetable stock - you can buy these at Chinese markets but they often contain preservatives and MSG, so we definitely recommend making your own if you have the time! 

Mapo Dou Fou

Serves 2

Dietary: Vegan

Prep Time: 15 minutes | Cook Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 200g plain tofu
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp Sichuan peppercorns
  • Sunflower or groundnut oil for frying
  • 1 tbsp chilli bean paste (recipe below) 
  • Pinch of chilli flakes: optional (you could use Korean Gochugaru which are milder)
  • 2 cm ginger, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp fermented black beans
  • Pinch of ground white pepper
  • 3 spring onions
  • 100ml vegetable stock or water (recipe below) 
  • 1 tbsp cornflour or potato flour mixed with 2 tbsp cold water
  • 2 spring onions, sliced diagonally
  • 1 tbsp chilli oil (optional)

Method

  1. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Add ¼ tsp of salt, reduce the heat to low, then add the Tofu cubes.Allow them to very gently simmer on this low heat for the few minutes it takes to make the sauce, but don't let the water get too hot or the tofu will toughen. You can skip this step, but this poaching process makes the tofu lovely and tender and enables it to absorb the sauce better.
  2. Heat a wok and quickly toast the Sichuan peppercorns till fragrant.
  3. Remove to a pestle and mortar and crush roughly. Set aside.
  4. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in the wok over a high heat.
  5. Add the chilli bean paste and stir in the oil until it turns red.
  6. Add the ginger, garlic, fermented black beans and chili flakes if you are using them. Stir fry for a couple of minutes or until they smell aromatic. Take care with the heat as you don't want to burn the mixture.
  7. Using a slotted spoon, lift the tofu cubes from the hot water, and add to the wok.
  8. Stir gently into the chilli sauce being careful not to break up the tofu.
  9. Pour in the stock or water, add a large pinch of white pepper, and bring to a simmer.
  10. Slowly pour in a little of the flour/water mixture, stirring continuously and adding more until the sauce thickens to your desired consistency. Stir in the spring onions and Sichuan pepper and drizzle with chilli oil, if you like it hotand serve at once with steamed rice.

Chilli Bean Paste

Most chilli bean pastes on the market contain a long list of ingredients, often including MSG. At the cookery school we make a substitute chilli paste, which though not totally authentic, gives a similar flavour.

Makes enough for the Mapo Dou Fou. 

Ingredients

  • 1 garlic clove, pounded to a paste with a large pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp gochujang (Korean Chilli paste: make sure it also contains no additives!)
  • 1 tsp brown miso paste
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • ½ tsp fermented black beans, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil: optional
  • 1 tbsp cold water

Method

  1. Mix everything together by hand or in a pestle and mortar. Use straight away, or make extra and keep for up to 3 days or freeze till needed.

Chinese Vegetable Stock

Makes approximately 2 litres

Ingredients

  • 2.5 litres cold water
  • 2 onions, peeled and cut in quarters
  • 2 celery sticks, roughly chopped
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 1 leek, roughly chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
  • 5 cm piece ginger, unpeeled and sliced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
  • 5 dried Chinese or Shitake mushrooms

Method

  1. Put all the ingredients except the dried mushrooms into a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 1 hour.
  2. Add the dried mushrooms and gently simmer for a further 30 minutes.
  3. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Strain and pick out the mushrooms (to slice and use in cooking), but discard the remaining vegetables.
  4. Keep the stock in the fridge for up to 3 days or freeze in a plastic container.

Find more of Rachel's vegetarian Sichuan recipes in the November 2017 issue of Vegetarian Living Magazine.

For a hands on introduction to Chinese cookery, check out Lydia's upcoming Chinese New Year Feast.

Delicious food photography by Rob Wicks of Eat Pictures.

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