Vegan Chinese Mapo Tofu
Reprinted with permission from The Vegan Chinese Kitchen by Hannah Che copyright © 2022. Photographs by Hannah Che. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.
Yields 6 Servings
AuthorHannah Che

Says Portland-raised, Taipei-based chef Hannah Che, “I learned how to make the vegetarian version of the dish from Chef Li, a Sichuanese chef, who explained that the four essential ingredients are the fermented black beans, chili bean paste, ground Sichuan peppercorns, and ground red chiles—everything else was negotiable. He used minced shiitake mushrooms in place of the ground beef and taught me to thicken the dish with three rounds of starch slurry, until the tofu was suspended in a silky, viscous sauce. We toasted fresh red peppercorns in oil and ground up more peppercorns to sprinkle on the dish for the famous numbing sensation.”

This recipe and others like it can be found in the article “Hannah Che’s Vegan Chinese Recipes Modernize a 1,000-Year-Old Tradition.”

How to Make It

1

Soak the mushrooms in a small bowl of hot water for 30 minutes to rehydrate, then drain, stem, and finely chop them.

2

In a medium pot, bring 4 cups of salted water to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, add the tofu cubes, and simmer gently for 10 minutes to refresh the tofu’s flavors and firm it up.

3

Make a slurry by combining the potato starch with 1⁄4 cup cold water in a small bowl. Stir until smooth and set aside.

4

Heat a wok over medium heat until a bead of water evaporates immediately upon contact. Add the oil, swirling to coat the sides of the wok. Reduce heat to low. Add the whole Sichuan peppercorns and dried chiles, and stir-fry 1–2 minutes to infuse the oil with flavor, until the chiles are slightly darkened in color and aromatic. Do not burn them. Remove from the heat. Using a slotted spoon, remove and discard the spices, leaving behind the aromatic oil.

5

Return the wok to medium-high heat and add the mushrooms, ginger, and garlic. Fry for 1 minute, until the mushrooms are beginning to brown. Scoot them up one side of the wok.

6

Add the fermented black beans, chili bean paste, and ground chile, and stir-fry briefly for 10 seconds to release their fragrance. Pour in the stock, then add sugar and soy sauce. Bring the liquid to a boil. Lift the tofu cubes from the hot water with a slotted spoon and place them gently in the wok. To keep them from breaking, don’t stir; instead, move the wok in a swirling motion, shifting the sauce as it bubbles under the tofu. Bring to a full boil.

7

Give the starch slurry a stir and drizzle about a third of it into the wok, swirling the wok gently to mix in the slurry as the liquid thickens. Repeat this two more times, until the sauce is glossy and clings to the tofu, then remove the wok from the heat and transfer everything to a serving dish. Sprinkle with the scallions and the ground peppercorns (these provide the tingly mouthfeel), and serve.

Ingredients

 4 or 5 dried shiitake mushrooms
 kosher salt
 14–16 oz. firm tofu, cut into 3⁄4-inch cubes
 1 tbsp potato starch
 3 tbsp vegetable oil
 2 tsp whole Sichuan peppercorns
 5 dried red chiles, cut into 3⁄4-inch segments and seeds shaken out
 1 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and minced
 1 tbsp fresh garlic, minced
 1 tbsp fermented black beans, rinsed and coarsely chopped
 2 ½ tbsp Sichuan chili bean paste
 1 tsp ground Sichuan chile or chile flakes
 1 cup unsalted stock of any kind, or water
 ½ tsp sugar
 1 tsp soy sauce
 2 scallions, green parts only, thinly sliced, for garnish
 ½ tsp ground Sichuan peppercorns

Directions

1

Soak the mushrooms in a small bowl of hot water for 30 minutes to rehydrate, then drain, stem, and finely chop them.

2

In a medium pot, bring 4 cups of salted water to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, add the tofu cubes, and simmer gently for 10 minutes to refresh the tofu’s flavors and firm it up.

3

Make a slurry by combining the potato starch with 1⁄4 cup cold water in a small bowl. Stir until smooth and set aside.

4

Heat a wok over medium heat until a bead of water evaporates immediately upon contact. Add the oil, swirling to coat the sides of the wok. Reduce heat to low. Add the whole Sichuan peppercorns and dried chiles, and stir-fry 1–2 minutes to infuse the oil with flavor, until the chiles are slightly darkened in color and aromatic. Do not burn them. Remove from the heat. Using a slotted spoon, remove and discard the spices, leaving behind the aromatic oil.

5

Return the wok to medium-high heat and add the mushrooms, ginger, and garlic. Fry for 1 minute, until the mushrooms are beginning to brown. Scoot them up one side of the wok.

6

Add the fermented black beans, chili bean paste, and ground chile, and stir-fry briefly for 10 seconds to release their fragrance. Pour in the stock, then add sugar and soy sauce. Bring the liquid to a boil. Lift the tofu cubes from the hot water with a slotted spoon and place them gently in the wok. To keep them from breaking, don’t stir; instead, move the wok in a swirling motion, shifting the sauce as it bubbles under the tofu. Bring to a full boil.

7

Give the starch slurry a stir and drizzle about a third of it into the wok, swirling the wok gently to mix in the slurry as the liquid thickens. Repeat this two more times, until the sauce is glossy and clings to the tofu, then remove the wok from the heat and transfer everything to a serving dish. Sprinkle with the scallions and the ground peppercorns (these provide the tingly mouthfeel), and serve.

Mapo Tofu

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