Monday, September 09, 2013

What to Do with Tofu, Part I: Mabodofu, Yummy Tofu With Meat Sauce (Szechwan Style)


Ever wonder what to do with tofu? Something delicious and different so that your guests will ask, "How did you make this? It's wonderful!" Think Chinese cooking is scary and mysterious? This simple and simply delightful recipe can change all that in one stroke. My family loves mabodofu (also written as mabo-dofu, mabo tofu, mapo dofu, etc.) and it's so easy that it gives me a break. Mabodofu means delicious, easy tofu-based entrée everyone will enjoy.
Traditional Chinese versions of mabodofu (from the Szechwan province) use ground pork, but we love it with ground turkey—the meat is so light, you won't need to drain it after cooking. However, if you'd like to, you can try this with ground pork, beef, or lamb—but be sure to drain off the fat before continuing with the recipe.
Another variation that I prefer is sweet white onions instead of green onions, which is the traditional style. Your choice there. My tendency is to use what I have on hand. If you have leeks or shallots, why not use those?
Also, because I am cooking for a four-year-old, I usually make this with ketchup instead of hot chili paste. To make up for it, I serve the dish with chili paste on the side, so the grown-ups can experience the Szechwan kick. (If you think ketchup is icky, you'll be surprised—it's a subtle flavor you can hardly detect and it adds a nice mellowness.)
The recipe below serves six—or four, if you are hungry. And it is a good way to stretch a dollar too—one pound of ground meat along with the tofu serves that many.

  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1 chopped medium sweet onion (can also use green onions)
  • 1 tablespoon crushed garlic
  • 1.25 lbs ground turkey (you can also use ground beef, pork, chicken, or lamb)
  • 1 tablespoon chili paste, to taste (we like Sriracha brand from Thailand)
    —OR—
    If cooking for children, 3 tablespoons ketchup instead of chili paste—serve the chili paste at the table
  • 2 cups chicken stock (I use water and Superior Touch “Better than Bouillon” chicken stock paste, 1 tablespoon to reconstitute)
  • 3-4 tablespoons soy sauce (to taste)
  • 3 tablespoons sake (rice wine or other white wine)
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root
  • 2 (14 ounce) containers silken tofu (drained and cut into cubes)
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 pinches ground white pepper (white pepper is the quintessential Chinese flava—you gotta get some!)
  1. In a large sturdy frying pan (preferably a 12" one), sauté the onions and the garlic in the oils until onions are somewhat tender (sauté less if using green onions).
  2. Add in the ground meat and chop it up with your spatula as you stir-fry. Continue until meat is no longer pink (takes only a few minutes--do not overcook!).
  3. Add in ginger, chili paste (to taste--leave it out if cooking for a toddler), sake or other wine, soy sauce, and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, skimming off fat, if needed.
  4. Add in the cubed tofu and stir gently, while trying to avoid breaking up the cubes. Cook only until tofu is coated and hot (not long!).
  5. Stir the cornstarch into a few tablespoons of water--just to moisten--and add this mixture slowly to the meat and tofu--stirring constantly.
  6. Cook, simmering, for about five minutes so that the tofu gets saturated with the sauce and heated through.
Scoop heaping portions of the mapo dofu over steamed white rice and let guests add in more chili paste, if they desire. Great accompanied by Chinese broccoli (broccolini) that's been lightly sauteed.