Vegan Mapo Tofu: Chengdu Inspired! (麻婆豆腐)
- 6-9 dried shiitake mushrooms approx. 20 grams
- 1½ cups lukewarm water
- ½ tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons reserved mushroom soaking water
- 16 ounces soft or silken tofu, sliced in 2 cm cubes approx. 0.8"
- 4 tablespoons caiziyou (Chinese roasted rapeseed oil)
- 1 tablespoon 1-year aged red oil doubanjiang (Pixian Juan Cheng preferred), minced
- 1 tablespoon 3-year aged doubanjiang (Pixian Yi Feng He Hao preferred), minced
- ½ tablespoon ground chilies
- 1 teaspoon douchi (fermented black soybeans)
- 3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
- ½ scant teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
- 1 bunch scallions (or garlic greens if available), thinly sliced, or chopped in 2 cm lengths or same length as tofu
- ½ teaspoon ground huajiao (Sichuan pepper) see note, more or less to taste
Wash, scrub and thoroughly rinse any dirt or sediment from dried mushrooms. When the water runs clear, add 1½ cups of water and set aside to soak for 4-6 hours. Flip all the caps so the stems face down into the water to soak adequately. Once the cap and stems are soft to the touch, strain and squeeze out extra moisture before dicing the rehydrated shiitake. You can refer to photos for size. Reserve the mushroom soaking water! Make the cornstarch slurry with 2 tablespoons of the mushroom water and set the rest aside. In a pot of cold water, add cubed tofu and a generous pour of salt, as if you were salting pasta water. Bring the cold water and tofu to a boil. Once boiling, continue cooking on medium heat for about 1 minute. Avoid a rolling boil, which will break apart the tofu.Strain the cooked tofu and set aside. Heat a wok over medium heat and bring ¼ cup of caiziyou to smoking. If not using caiziyou, skip the smoking step and heat the oil until shimmering. Add the doubanjiang and fry gently until fragrant and the oil turns red, about 1-2 minutes. Add the ground chilies. When more red color and fragrance start coming out from the chilies, add the minced garlic, ginger and douchi. Continue frying until you can smell the garlic, then add mushrooms. Fry slowly until fragrant, then add reserved mushroom soaking water. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Slide the drained tofu carefully down the sides of the wok to prevent the cubes from breaking and "push" the cubes aside with the back of the spatula to mix. Turn the heat down and simmer gently for 4-5 minutes, occasionally pushing the cubes aside to coat in the sauce. Give the cornstarch slurry another mix until it becomes smooth again. Pour in ⅓ of the mixture, push aside the tofu cubes to mix, pour in another ⅓ of the slurry, push aside the cubes to mix again, and pour in the last ⅓ of the cornstarch. Mix gently.Turn off the heat and add the chopped scallions or garlic greens. Give it one last push to mix and gently slide the mapo tofu out of the pan into a shallow serving bowl to prevent the tofu from breaking. Garnish with the ground huajiao on top. Enjoy!
GROUND HUAJIAO (Sichuan pepper):
Toast whole huajiao in a dry skillet until pods start to smell very fragrant, but do not brown them. Let peppercorns cool, then grind in a spice grinder or in a mortar + pestle to your desired coarseness. Sichuan pepper powder will retain its potent flavor and numbing punch for only a few weeks.