Mapo Tofu is a great classic Chinese dish for any time of year. Despite being rich and spicy, it can be made in such a way to be an appropriately healthy summer dish. In Chinese medicine everything is balanced by Yin and Yang. Yin, or cooling foods, tend to be preferable in the summer yet many people in Southern China continue to eat spicy (or Yang) foods during the hot season. Why is this? Yin and Yang have a constantly evolving and changing relationship, and one of their properties states that they can (in extreme circumstances) transform into each other.
Thus, while hot chilis begin with a Yang warming nature, as soon as they make you sweat their energetic nature has become Yin or cooling. This is demonstrated in the physiological process of sweating, the entire function of which is to cool down the human body.
All energetic theory aside, this dish is absolutely delicious any time of year!
- 500–600 grams (1.1 – 1.3 pounds) plain white tofu
- 4 baby leeks or spring onions, green parts only
- 4 tablespoons cooking oil
- 1 tablespoon of fermented black beans, rinsed and drained
- 2½ tablespoons Sichuan chilli bean paste
- 2 teaspoon ground red chillies (optional)
- 100ml stock or water
- ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
- 2 teaspoon of potato flour or corn flour mixed with 2 tablespoons of cold water
- ¼–½ ground roasted Sichuan pepper
- Cut tofu into 2 cm cubes and place in a pan of very hot, salted water while you prepare the rest of the ingredients (do not let the water boil or the tofu will become tough and porous).
- Finely slice the green parts of the baby leeks or spring onions at a steep angle.
- Heat wok, add oil and reduce heat to medium. Add chilli paste and fry until oil is a rich red color and smells fragrant. Then add black beans and ground chillies (if using). Stir fry for a few seconds then add garlic and ginger. Take care not to overcook seasonings, reduce heat if necessary and let seasonings sizzle until the sauce is rich and fragrant.
- Remove the tofu from water with a perforated spoon, shake out excess water and add gently to the sauce, pushing the tofu gently through the sauce and taking care not to break up the tofu.
- Add stock or water, white pepper and salt and mix gently, bring to a gentle boil and let simmer for a few minutes until tofu has absorbed the flavours of the sauce.
- Add the leek slices now (if you are using them) and simmer until they are tender, then gradually add as much of the cornflour mixture as needed until the sauce thickens and clings nicely to the tofu. If you are using spring onion greens, add these now and stir them gently through the tofu and sauce.
- Pour tofu into a bowl, sprinkle with Sichuan pepper and serve with rice and greens.
Adapted from Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice Simple: Chinese Homestyle Cooking