Ma Po Doufu: a Truly-Divine, Vegan Version

March 17, 2008 at 5:00 PM (Arusuvai Friendship Chain, China, dishes by cuisine, dishes by main ingredient, fungi, legumes/pulses- whole or split, seeds, soy, Szechuan, various nuts like me, walnuts, pecans, and hickory-nuts)

happy-spring-to-all.jpg 

This is a lovely dish from the province of Szechuan, China, with an equally loverly story attached to its origin which may be read here. Only a handful of Chinese restaurants abroad ever offer this dish, for it isn’t a quick stir-fry: it is a simmered, stew-like dish with a bit of preliminary prep-work involved. Traditionally, a small quantity of ground pork (or beef) is included, and hitherto I have followed suit.

When I received an Arusuvai Friendship Chain gift of extremely-fresh, Szechuan peppercorns sent by the ever-talented Musical, I set to work almost immediately to prepare this long-time favorite which prominently features this tongue-numbing spice. I sat there, nibbling daintily away at a plateful with freshly-steamed rice, resisting an urge to shovel it in greedily (it is so delicious…) when a few thoughts struck me: truly, it is the finely-balanced sauce which dominates the flavour….the ground pork lends a gentle sweetness, but mostly the pieces serve as a textural counterpoint to the soft bean-curd…

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And then, within a span of a few days, two jolting pieces of information crossed my path: first, I discovered the PETA videos posted on Youtube.com (I won’t go into detail here, but it would be sufficient to say that I saw things which I will not soon forget); second, the family chiropractor sent us his usual monthly newsletter. Most often this contains useful tidbits that he gleans from his personal wanderings in Ayurveda-land, but this time he included a brief summary of the findings of recent research that linked the consumption of animal protein to inflammation, and specifically a link to various forms of arthritis. And then…Jai of Jugalbandi wrote this post– furthur cementing my new convictions. So, I decided to make my consumption of animal protein an even rarer occasion than it already is. And I began to think of a new way to make ma po tofu

Over the years, I’ve tried a few different recipes, but I really liked the one found in Irene Kuo’s The Key to Chinese Cooking. It’s so delicious. And I knew it would be delicious still without a half-pound of pork. But what to add in its place? TVP (textured vegetable protein) is an obvious choice; it closely replicates the chewy texture of meat, but… I don’t like to rely on a factory-made product too much, nor does it add a whole lot in flavour…

Mushrooms. I’ve sometimes added various types of mushrooms to this dish anyway… they’re somewhat chewy…they would add a subtle flavour… but how will I convert them into little pieces like that? The ways are endless… Walnuts. Coarsely-ground. Delicately-sweet, and they are also used frequently in China. Use both.

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But first, who will I pass on the Arusuvai “torch” to? Hmmm…good question. Truly, no-one answered my riddle correctly. However… two people were quite close:

Linda of Out of the Garden answered “tofu” correctly (but seasoned differently)…and

Zlamushka of her own Spicy Kitchen answered “Ma…” correctly (but named another Szechuanese dish).

Since these two were the closest, I invited them to be my recipients of a little suprise…and they have both accepted the offer. Congratulations to both of you!

.

And now, Mushroom Meal!!!:

I took 1/2 pound (8 oz.) of plain old “button” mushrooms (they’re popular for a reason) and shredded them into a moist heap. But, not wanting shreddy-strands in my dish, I dehydrated this (I used an electric food-dehydrator, but an oven on a low-heat setting will work as well). Then, I took these dried shreds and smashed them into a coarse, granular powder in a mortar…the restrained use of an electric mixer/grinder or food processor will do the job just as nicely. We all end up with about 2-3 tablespoons. I suppose the same could be done to already-dried (stems removed) shiitake/Chinese black mushrooms- though I think their flavour would be too dominant here- but perhaps another milder-flavoured ‘shroom?…

Ma Po Doufu/Tofu

(Pel’s vegan version based on Mrs. Kuo’s)

3 blocks of firm tofu (original recipe calls for 4- 3″X3″ blocks…generally, American blocks are a bit larger)

hot water

2 T peanut (or other) oil 

4 slices of peeled, fresh ginger; minced

1/2 C coarsely-ground raw walnuts

2-3 T mushroom meal (dried, coarsely-ground mushrooms– see above)

Seasonings: 

1 T Chinese cooking-wine, or dry sherry

1 T hot bean paste (AKA Szechuan bean paste)

1 T dark/sweet soy sauce

1 t or more, to taste, red chile oil* (optional)

 

1 C lightly-salted chana broth (liquid from cooking chickpeas/garbanzo beans) or other vegetable-stock

Binding sauce: 

2 t cornstarch dissolved in 1 T cold water

1 T dark/sweet soy sauce

2 t roasted sesame-seed oil

Finishing: 

2 whole spring onions (I used more cuz I like ’em: 6), thinly sliced

1/2 t (or more if you like) lightly dry-roasted and crushed Szechuan peppercorns

 

1)Cut the bean-curd into 1/2″ cubes; cover with hot water and drain just before adding.

2)Heat the peanut oil in a wok over med-low flame; add the ginger and fry until fragrant; add the walnuts and fry just until they begin to smell roasted.

3)Add 1 C of hot water and the mushroom meal; bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally at first and then more frequently, until the mixture is fairly dry and the mushrooms have reconstituted- about 20 minutes.

4)Add the seasonings and stir well; add the chana or vegetable broth.

5)Drain the bean-curd and scatter these into the pan; stir very gently to even these out; bring to a gentle boil, cover the pan and cook for 5 minutes over med-low heat, stirring once during this time.

6)Stir the binding sauce well, then pour in a spiral over the contents of the pan; stir gently until the sauce thickens; turn off heat.

7)Gently fold in the spring onions;

8)Turn onto a serving-platter and sprinkle the ground peppercorns over the top; serve with hot steamed rice. You will assuredly enjoy! (Did I mention this is delicious?)

vegan.jpg

*Red chile oil can be bought, or simply made this way: heat 1 C oil until quite hot; remove from heat and add 6 T (3/8 C) ground red chiles (stand back, the fumes will irritate your breathing apparatus), stir gently for about a minute, then add 1 C more of oil to halt the frying. Allow to cool completely, strain through a musin cloth or several layers of cheesecloth and pour into a bottle. Besides being a useful cooking-sauce, it can also be used as an ingredient in dipping-sauces and salad-dressings… hotness yum!

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14 Comments

  1. Athisaya Divya said,

    that looks spicy and delicious..

    Thank you!

  2. aspiringannapoorna said,

    mmm…. mmm… good!

    P: 🙂

  3. Asha said,

    See, I would never have guessed right any way!:D

    Looks great! I don’t think I can never go Vegan ever, but easy to be a vegetarian for me because I grew up as one back in the days until I was 17! Not that I am giving up meat any time soon!

    Enjoy. I am on Spring break until May, see you again then. Take care!:)

    Thanks for stopping by Asha. Have a wonderful time…

  4. bee said,

    yum. yum. yum. chana broth, powdered mushrooms … it’s official. you are nuts.

    Is that it all took? 😉

  5. musy said,

    This is the best! Thanks for putting together the vegan ma po tofu! And mushrooms are a great choice here, because soy granules would make it too much soy.

    You don’t have to say how delicious this is, the evidence is right there, in those super-tempting pictures 😀

    I’m glad you approve! I think the mushrooms do a great job functioning where the meat was, I didn’t miss it in the least.

  6. shilpa said,

    And you were expecting someone to guess those Pel ??? Hmmm…
    These dishes look too good (and super HOT!!!). Mushroom paste is new to me,,,Now what is Szechuan bean paste? (I will come back later and read it whole..I am bit confused).

    It is made from fermented/pickled beans, salt, sugar, chiles…Chinese cooking seems to rely on time-consuming sauces/preparations to keep on hand…then these are used to season fresh ingredients for fairly quick meals.

  7. Suganya said,

    Mushroom meal :O. Seriously, how does it even occur to you?

    I dunno…give me parameters and I will find a solution…. 😀

  8. Anita said,

    Not happening…and there are people who complain about the ingredients in my recipes?! Tofu: not common (and costs more than it ought to), Szechuan bean paste – nada, Chinese cooking wine – nope, roasted sesame seed oil – no… Thank you for the recipe for chilli oil. 😀

    LOL…oh dear….Well…..tofu can be made at home- I know cuz I’ve done it! Plus…bean-curd means just that: it can be made from other beans…say, for instance, in Burma a bean-curd made from chana is preferred. Szechuan bean-paste….there MUST be a recipe out there somewhere…it’s nothing but a naturally-fermented pickle really….a good project to try and locate the procedure online when time permits. Sherry is often listed as a sub for Chinese cooking-wine…a dry, heavy-bodied wine of any kind would work as well methinks. It just adds a fruity undernote…a little fruit-juice? Roasted sesame-seed oil is another story! But maybe a paste of roasted sesame-seeds soaked in peanut oil for awhile and then strained work sit in?

  9. Anita said,

    (Love the first pic! Neat work with whatever software!)

    Thanks…the last of the funeral bouquets, now withered.

  10. Manisha said,

    Amazing how some people just like to complain!

    Pel, this recipe is different from the one in Fuschia Dunlop’s book. Will look for Kuo’s book in my local library.

    It’s a great book; I’ve heard it cited a few times as an excellent work.

  11. Zlamushka said,

    Pel, this is great! I love mapo doufu and just like you I usually add TVP and some mushrooms (ha, not ground into a coarse meal, though). Walnuts, interesting…

    I am super excited.. Am i really finally going to become a small part of the big “A chain” ??? 🙂 (smiling vigorously)…

    Yah! Arusuvai will be travelling to Europe. I loved the walnuts in here…different, but it works.

  12. outofthegarden said,

    Pel, it looks just fabulous and I think I would even like it with non-powdered mushrooms. Dried black chinese mushrooms are a treat I haven’t had in a long time. Used to be a little shop in Fresh Pond Circle that sold them loose from a big box. You could choose your own… now you have me craving mushrooms!

    Happily looking forward to your little surprise, and I am wondering… will it look like a bat??? :):)

    Linda

    No…no bats. You’d be expecting that! 😉 It’ll be fairly normal and you’ll know exactly what to do with it. hehehehehe Are you talking about the black “wood-ear” mushrooms that inflate into wiggly monstrosities upon rehydration? I love those…crispy texture…and have added those to ma po tofu at times…sliced. 😉

  13. Alka said,

    Hi Pel,
    Sorry i was unable to find about u more than ur name
    A quick glance in my “to moderate comments” folder ,made me think that its just a spam,so many comments from one single link wud make anyone wonder that isn’t it?
    But then a serious read ..and i was grinning at my folly 😉
    Thanks pel ,i appreciate that
    Regarding ur query abt rolling the Sev mithai mixture into ladoo,then i guess one can go ahead and do so(its not the case generally,coz mithai is always either square/rectangle or diamond shape)but no body can stop u in making ladoos of that mix 😉
    Thanks once again for stopping by,and for ur wonderful comments…U made my day dear
    Now regarding this veggie…..i must say its too exotic ,i wish u cud pass some here for me,coz i can NEVER EVER fix a dish like that..am still stucked in Noodles and manchurian….nothing far from that….and that too taste Indian…nothing even close to C of chinese cuisine

    Oh this dish is easy- much easier than it looks! But I really want some of that sev mithai now! Thank you for explaining this tradition of non-ladoo-ing to me, and thanks for stopping by Alka- I did very much enjoy seeing all of the wonderful dishes that grace your pages!

  14. Lowfat Ma Po Tofu, Spring, and a Chinese Dosa? « Out Of The Garden said,

    […] Pel’s Ma Po Doufu (vegan) […]

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