Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ma-Po Tofu (Tofu in Black Bean and Chilli Sauce)

Lately, I've been learning how to cook Chinese vegetarian dishes. I love Chinese food. However, I've found it somewhat difficult to find vegetarian dishes at Chinese restaurants. I've been to Chinese and Thai restaurants where dishes containing meat broth are referenced in the menu as being vegetarian. And then, of course, there's the issue of MSG. I loves me my sodium; but I don't enjoy the headache that sets in after having a meal.

To learn more about Chinese cooking, I've been reading cookbooks on the subject and watching the new Cooking Channel show, "Chinese Food Made Easy." Speaking of the Cooking Channel, have you seen it? I love it! It's what the Food Network used to be before it turned much of its focus (or so it seems) to reality-based programming. I enjoy the diversity the Cooking Channel offers with regard to World cuisine: Indian ("Spice Goddess"), French ("French Food at Home"), Chinese, Asian fusion ("Simply Ming"), Italian ("La Dolce Vita"), etc.

There are a lot of ma-po tofu recipes that can be found on the internet. Many of them call for the use of chicken stock. The following recipe, which comes from the book World Vegetarian Classics by Celia Brooks Brown, uses stock made from dried shiitake mushrooms. I've made this a few times already, and it has quickly become part of our regular rotation of weekday meals.

If you don't have any red chillies, then use red pepper flakes. I also use about 1 teaspoon or cornstarch, rather than 1 tablespoon of cornstarch as called for in Brooks' recipe, because I prefer a sauce that's less gelatinous.

Finally, prepare the rice ahead of time, because this dish does not take long to prepare, especially when using jarred black bean sauce and hoisin sauce.

Ma-Po Tofu
(Tofu in Black Bean and Chili Sauce)
Serves approximately 4

1 small handful sliced shiitake mushrooms
1 cup boiling water
1 pound firm tofu, drained and cut into cubes
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 large green bell pepper, chopped into bite-size chunks
1 large fresh red chili, deseeded and sliced (adjust amount according to heat preference)
2 large garlic cloves, minced or sliced
1 tablespoon cornstarch

For the sauce:

2 teaspoons black bean sauce

3 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon sweet chilli sauce
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon sugar

Place the shiitake mushrooms in a small bowl. Pour the cup of boiling water over the mushrooms and let stand for about 5 minutes. Drain the mushrooms, reserving the water, and set them aside.
Stir the cornflour into the reserved water and set that aside.

Place all of the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and stir to combine.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the mushroom, green pepper, chilli, and garlic to the skillet and cook until the garlic becomes soft, about 3 minutes. Stir in the sauce mixture.

Next, stir in the reserved water (with cornstarch). Continue cooking until the sauce thickens and becomes bubbly. Add the tofu cubes and stir until they are warmed through.
Serve with rice.

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