Oh my lord. Some days you feel like a nut, some days you feel like tofu. Amirite? No? Well, fine, be that way. There are, however, days you want a quick and tasty dinner for the absolute minimum effort. For some, that means calling the pizza guy or rummaging around the depths of the freezer for a Marie Stouffer-Totino’s Lean Pocket Something Something. But that isn’t how we roll here at PassionFruit Enterprises, is it? Mais non!
Thus this slightly hacked riff on mapo dofu, one of my favorite Chinese dishes. The soft, yielding tofu gets a major flavor upgrade thanks to several somewhat surprising ingredients and the singular numbing zing of Sichuan peppercorns ties it all together. The latter can be kind of hard to come by–until recently they were banned from the U.S. over citrus canker fears–but there’s literally nothing else in the world that remotely tastes like it. By that reason alone, you should go get some.
The dish itself is super easy–procuring your pepper is probably the most complicated part–and it can be ready to eat by the time your rice is done. On a harried weeknight, what could be better? Most dishes benefit from freshly minced garlic, just-grated ginger, and other fiddly a la minute additions. Not so this… all that and more is already in the bottles chilling out on your refrignerator door. Just cube that tofu, mix up that sauce, and you’re ready to go. Let’s get to it…
Quick Mapo Dofu
Yield: 2 servings (with rice, 4 if you’ve got other dishes)
14 oz (drained wt) package soft tofu–not silken, not hard: SOFT
3-4 oz ground pork (optional)
1 tbs whole Sichuan peppercorns
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tsp Sriracha hot sauce
3 tbs tomato ketchup
1 tbs black bean sauce
tiny squirt fish sauce
1/4 c water
1 green onion top, sliced
Gently slice the tofu into half-inch cubes. Lay the cubes on a paper towel-lined plate, put a couple more paper towels on top, and rest another plate over the towels. Let sit. (You can totally skip this bit if you’re, like, dying of hunger… but it does help.)
If using, put the pork in a medium frying pan, breaking up any lumps while cooking over medium-high heat.
While the pork is browning, grind up the Sichuan peppercorns with a mortar & pestle or a spice grinder (I’ve never seen it for sale pre-ground). In a small bowl, combine the ground peppercorns with the soy, hot sauce, ketchup, black bean sauce, fish sauce, and water.
Add the sauce to the pan with the pork and stir to combine. Add the tofu and toss gently to combine. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring regularly, until the sauce has thickend and been mostly absorbed by the tofu. Sprinkle with the sliced green onion tops and serve hot with rice.
Notes & Variations
Obviously, swap ground beef or turkey in for the pork, or skip the meat all together. There’s plenty of umami in the sauce and you’ll hardly notice that it’s gone. Many Chinese dishes do, however, include just a little bit of pork. When I’m not cooking for vegetarians, it is nice to throw it in–particularly when I’m only making one dish to go over some green pea rice. Since these recipes generally call for only a few ounces, I will usually have some–parceled out, wrapped in plastic, and then zip-top bagged–ready to go in the freezer. Like so: