Mapo tofu

Vegetarian Mapo Tofu

Mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐) is a very popular Sichuan Chinese dish made from tofu, Douchi or fermented black beans, rice wine, pungent Sichuan peppers and a double hit of chilli flakes and Douban, a chilli and bean paste. Classically the dish is made with ground beef or pork and so spicy as to make the diner sweat. In this recipe, I have substituted roughly chopped Shiitake mushrooms for the meat. Last year I posted a serious of recipes from one of my favourite Chinese cuisines to celebrate Chinese New Year including My Cantonese Pork and Crab and Sweetcorn Soup. This year I am going to post some Sichuan dishes to add to the collection.

Mapo tofu
Mapo tofu

Mapo Tofu History

The origins of the dish are a little confusing but one thing is for certain and all of the experts agree on the meaning of the name ‘ Mapo ‘. Ma stands for pockmarks and po is derived from the Chinese for old lady or grandma. So Mapo tofu is a shortening of the name Pockmarked Ma’s Bean Curd. This lady may have owned a restaurant, or been a relative of a restaurant owner, or simply being hospitable. whatever she created a stunning dish packed with flavour. Today there are many variations and recipes that are often adapted with less spice, but you should really give the authentic recipe a try. Enjoy.

Mapo Tofu Ingredients

Sliced tofu
Sliced Tofu

Tofu or bean curd is made from soy milk. In a process similar to making cheese it is first made into curds which are pressed into blocks. The finished product has a soft yielding texture and is quite bland in taste but is often used in really highly-flavoured dishes such as Mapo tofu.

Sichuan Pepper
Sichuan pepper

Sichuan pepper is not like any of its namesakes the smell and taste is unique. It has a citrus aroma, in fact, it is a member of the citrus family and creates a mild pleasant numbness in the mouth.

Doubanjiang or douban is a salty spicy paste made from fermented broad beans, soya beans and rice and red chillies. It is known as ‘ the soul of Sichuan cuisine ‘.

Fermented Black Beans
Douchi – fermented black beans

Douchi ( 豆豉 ) are semi-dried fermented and salted black soybeans used in Chinese cooking. The finished taste is both sweet and salty so the beans are used sparingly as a flavouring to dishes. Douchi are one of the oldest know products made from soybeans dating back over two thousand years.

Top Tips

Use a wooden spoon or flat spatula to gently stir the dish when cooking to avoid breaking up the tofu. As both the fermented black beans and the douban are salty check the flavour of the dish before adding any additional salt. If you want a little more Sichuan hit sprinkle the finished dish with extra freshly ground Sichuan pepper.

As you will be making this quickly in a wok it helps to have all the ingredients ready before you start cooking.

My Rhubarb Fool – A perfect Seasonal Dessert

What is Rhubarb Fool?

Rhubarb fool is a great seasonal dessert when fresh fruit in the UK is in pretty short supply. Early in the New Year ( Happy 2019 everyone ) and many of us are thinking about trying to shift the extra weight we may have put on over Christmas. I’m not sure I can go as far as something really healthy, but what I do have is an idea to revitalise any jaded party palettes. As it is time for the earliest of the season’s rhubarb, what about this delicious sweet? Forced rhubarb will be available from good greengrocers but it can be pricey, you can wait for the season’s main crop. The best forced rhubarb comes from the rhubarb triangle in West Yorkshire.

We chefs can sometimes overlook simple classic dishes that have pleased people for a very long time. The fruit fool is a versatile and first-rate example of an underrated culinary star, tart fruits with sweetened cream. You can make them pretty much throughout the year starting with rhubarb, then strawberries, gooseberry and elderflower is delicious and finish with late season raspberries in Autumn.

Trimmed Rhubarb Stems

My Rhubarb Top Tip

I was bought up from an early age by three formidable ladies, my Mum and the aunties Elizabeth and Mary, all incredible cooks. Peeking over the kitchen table I watched them pickle, preserve, knead, ferment, blanch, pluck, peel and chop with carefree abandonment. My guess is a little must have rubbed off on my shoulders. They were all armed with Mrs. Beeton, Robert Carrier, the Bero book and all became particularly big favourites of the Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady.

Rhubarb Leaves are Poisonous!

I do not remember if my tip for today was in the book, but I remember it was full of beautiful illustrations and lots of old country lore. I am pretty sure most people are aware that the leaves of rhubarb are poisonous, but they do have a use. If you have a badly burnt pan leave it to soak for a couple of hours with some torn up rhubarb leaves covered with water. The carbonised food should then be easy to shift with warm soapy water and a scourer, please make sure you rinse thoroughly.

My Rhubarb Fool

I’m not sure if the purists would serve a fool on a biscuit base but I like the butter ginger biscuit base which adds a nice little contrast to the softly whipped cream and poached fruit. The choice is up to you if you wish to leave it out. So while I am not going to win any points for calorie-free food I think this is winner on flavour. Enjoy

My Rhubarb and Ginger Fool
You can adapt through the changing fruit seasons with rhubarb, gooseberry, raspberry and loganberries. This recipe is adapted from one by one of my culinary hero’s, Simon Hopkinson. I like the flavour combination of rhubarb and orange with the buttery ginger biscuit base. You can make it with caster or golden sugar but again I like to use soft brown sugar for the added extra toffee / caramel flavour.