It didn’t sound right at first — cooking ma po tofu without meat. But, yesterday, not wanting to waste the silken tofu that was nearing expiration but without having thawed any meat to go with it, I decided to take the plunge — ma po tofu with mushrooms and clams and with no meat at all.
Guess what? It was surprisingly good. So very, very good. The carnivorous part of me was not disappointed and the meatless ma po tofu did not leave me craving for the fullness that only meat could often provide. The dish was very flavorful (never underestimate the flavors of clams and mushrooms) and full of texture.
The idea for meatless tofu came from reader Mila (thank you!).
It took me a while to try her suggestion but I am glad that I finally did. Of course, I didn’t go all out vegetarian. Meatless was about as far I could go. But considering how happy I was with the result, maybe, just maybe, next time, I’ll make ma po tofu with a medley of mushrooms.
But first, as usual, as few notes.
Chili bean paste is available in the Oriental section of some supermarkets. I use Lee Kum Kee.
If Shao Xing rice wine is unavailable, substitute any good quality Chinese cooking wine.
Use fish sauce sparingly because the black beans are already very salty.
Meatless Ma Po Tofu
- 1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon fermented black beans
- a handful of dried shiitake mushrooms (see cooking with dried mushrooms)
- 1 cup shucked cooked clams
- 2 generous slices of ginger peeled
- 3 to 4 cloves of garlic peeled
- 1 large onion (or 2 shallots), peeled
- 4 tablespoons cooking oil
- 1 tablespoon chili bean paste
- 1/4 cup Shao Xing rice wine
- 300 grams block of silken tofu cut into one-inch cubes
- fish sauce to taste
- 6 stalks green onion (onion leaves), finely sliced
- sesame seed oil
- Measure the sichuan peppercorns. Use a mortar and pestle to pound and grind them.
- Measure the fermented black beans, drain (if soaked in brine) and rinse. If using dry black beans, soak in a little warm water to rehydrate.
- Add the fermented black beans to the sichuan peppercorns and grind with a circular motion of the wrist. Continue grinding until the mixture resembles a coarse paste.
- Drain the mushrooms.
- Chop the mushrooms. How coarse or how fine, I’ll leave it up to you. Personally, I prefer coarse for better texture.
- Rinse the clams.
- Chop the clams. Again, how coarse or how fine, I’ll leave it up to you.
- Chop the onion (or shallots), finely mince the garlic and finely chop the ginger.
- Heat the cooking oil. Add the the ground Sichuan peppercorns and black beans and cook until fragrant, about a minute.
- Add the garlic, ginger, shallots and chili bean paste. Cook for about half a minute.
- Add the mushrooms. Cook, stirring, for about a minute.
- Add the clams. Cook, stirring, for about half a minute.
- Season with fish sauce then pour in the Shao Xing rice wine. Bring to the boil.
- Add the tofu cubes, stir lightly, lower the heat, cover and simmer for a minute or two.
- Transfer the cooked meatless Ma Po tofu to a serving platter, sprinkle the onion leaves on top, drizzle with sesame seed oil and serve at once.