This isn't really authentic Ma Po Dofu, but it is a good and easy facsimile thereof with a short ingredient list. I made it for the first time last night in an attempt to stand in for my mother in making dinner for house guests. Mom was sick in bed, and no one wanted pizza. This did nicely as a protein dish for 4 in a vegetarian meal which also included a vaguely Thai clear soup, asparagus sautéed with button mushrooms, celery sautéed with lily bulbs, and a room temperature eggplant salad (a little hard to describe!). Dinner was well received, although everyone could have been being polite. But I liked it enough to think it worth posting as it is easy to make and fairly fast.
2 packages of soft tofu, cut into roughly 0.5 x 1 inch blocks.
- This is easier than it sounds. Drain out the water and then slice the brick of tofu while it is still in the box. Cut across and down to get .5'' squares, then flip it out onto a board and slice horizontally about halfway up. Note that perfection is not expected or required. The idea is for largish pieces of tofu which are small enough to stir around without breaking into mush. Larger is fine, as is smaller. Go with your preferences. Also note that soft and silken tofu are not the same thing. Silken tofu can be used for this, but be more careful in stirring it around as it is much more fragile. Delicious, but fragile.
About 1 generous tablespoon or more each of: More is better, these are minimums!
- minced garlic; about 3 large cloves
- minced ginger
- chopped scallions; about 2 stalks
- chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)
about 2 tablespoons each of: This is a guidline only; go by your taste buds, assuming you have any left.
- soy sauce
- your favorite chili paste. It is slightly more authentic if you choose something with Sichuan peppercorns in it. No matter what, though, you must like your chili paste. It is the primary seasoning for this dish and if you don't like it, it won't be good.
- 2-3 tablespoons of oil
- This is another ballpark figure. Use less if adding ground pork, more if going meatless. Just note that this dish requires plenty of oil as a vehicle for the capsaicin in the chilis. It just won't taste right 'light.' Incidentally, I used olive oil, and could just barely tell in the finished dish. It wasn't unpleasant, so feel free to try it.
- 0.5 - 0.75 pound of lean ground pork (optional)
- No, I didn't put pork in a vegetarian dish. But it would be easy enough to add if you are inclined. Or try some ground turkey if you don't eat pork.
You will also need a pan and something paddle- or spoon-like to stir and turn the tofu without smashing it or breaking it up unduly. I used a 10'' cast iron dutch oven and a bamboo rice paddle. But just about anything shallow spoon-like is good and any pot will work as long as you've plenty of surface area in it. Too little surface area and the tofu will exude lots of water as it takes longer to heat through, and also that water won't boil off as readily.
Heat the pan good and hot. Turn your stove's exhaust hood on its highest setting. Pour the oil into the pot. It may start to smoke a bit after a few seconds. Throw in the garlic, ginger, and scallions before the oil burns or you start a grease fire.
Stir it around until it smells really good and the garlic starts to brown. If you're using pork, throw it in now and stir it around to break up.
Let it just cook through and then throw in the chili paste and soy sauce. It will bubble madly as you stir it. Let it cook together for just a bit, and then taste it. Not hot enough? add more chili paste. Not salty enough? add more soy Careful! Not too much!. Remember, the point is to season the extremely bland and yet wonderfully tender tofu, so the sauce should be intense.
Add in the tofu, stir just to coat the pieces, and then leave it alone until it is mostly hot. Stir it a bit and let it finish heating through. It will be very saucy because of the moisture from the tofu. This gravy is a good thing!
Remove from the heat, gently stir in the coriander/cilantro and serve. Make sure plenty of fresh, hot rice is ready.