Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Quarantine Cooking Series: My Version of Mabo Tofu

Mabo tofu was always a favorite dish of mine when I was growing up.  My mom would make it with the House Foods instant mix packet from the Chinese supermarket; it was easy, filling, and it always hit the spot for our busy family of five.  You could say that it was the Hamburger Helper of Chinese immigrant families--there'd always be a stash of these in the kitchen cabinet, and all you have to do is add ground meat and a pack of tofu.  Throughout college, I'd keep a few boxes on hand, too.  In recent years, though, I've decided that it would probably be healthier to make it without the MSG and artificial colors.  I usually stick with the same ingredients (especially my secret weapon: tomato!), but every time I make it, it's been inconsistent.  So this time, I tried to measure things out and write it down.  Even so, every Chinese person likes his or her mabo tofu different.  This is just the version that works for me!


1/2 lb ground pork (or ground turkey) 
1 green onion (minced)
2-3 garlic cloves (minced)
1.5-inch piece of ginger (minced)
1/8 cup soy sauce 
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp Taiwanese cooking wine or Shaoxing rice wine
1 medium-sized tomato (sliced into wedges)
1 tsp Chinese black bean sauce
1 tsp spicy black bean sauce / chili garlic sauce
1/2 teaspoon chili oil*
1/2 teaspoon ground Szechuan peppercorn
Dash of salt
Chicken broth (1/2 - 2/3 cup)
1 pack of soft tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
Corn starch (2 tablespoons)
Cooking oil

*You could make your own chili oil by heating ¼ cup of cooking oil with 6-8 chopped dried red chili peppers for about 5 minutes (until fragrant), ensuring that the peppers don't burn.

  1. Combine the ground meat with soy sauce, sesame oil, cooking wine, minced onion, minced garlic, and minced ginger in a large bowl.  Let it marinate for about 20 minutes.
  2. Heat a wok on high heat and add some cooking oil.  When oil is hot, add the meat, breaking up the clumps, and stir fry it for about 5 minutes.  
  3. Add the tomato and continue to stir fry for 5 minutes.
  4. Add the black bean sauce, chili garlic sauce, chili oil.  Stir fry.
  5. Season with salt, ground Szechuan peppercorn.
  6. Add the chicken broth and tofu cubes, bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover for about 15-20 minutes.
  7. Scoop out about 1/4 cup of the stew in the wok (just the fluid) into a small bowl and stir in the corn starch to make a slurry.  Pour it back into the wok and gently stir to incorporate - the stew should thicken up.  If you'd like it thicker, you can repeat with more corn starch.
  8. Taste and adjust according to your preference - you can make it spicier by adding more chili sauce, saltier by adding more soy sauce or salt, or sweeter by adding more black bean sauce.  You can also let it all reduce by heating it on high with the cover off for a few minutes.  Just avoid too much stirring so as not to break up the tofu.
  9. Top with chopped green onion and serve with steamed rice and veggies!

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