It was one of those week nights I was stumped on what to make for dinner. I could possibly describing most week nights! But I stood numbly in the kitchen and tried to come up with something before hanger crept into the house. In the fridge I saw tofu and some ground pork I bought for meatballs and then boom! ma-po tofu came to mind which is interesting because … meatballs to ma-po tofu? Plus, I’ve never made it before nor have I pinned it, which is the next best thing, right?
Ma-po tofu wasn’t a staple take out or chinese restaurant dish for my family growing up. My husband actually introduced me to the dish during our dating years. Little did I know the sauce came from a little instant pack from the Asian grocery store where all you have to do is add the fresh ingredients. AKA bachelor food. I was actually quite impressed, because he’s great at visual presentation so it possibly made up a lot for the taste. And hey, I was in love and happy to have dinner made for me. It could have been buttered toast and yum, swoon. Ah, young love.
Well, back in the weeknight kitchen, I looked up the recipe and found one from epicurious.com whose recipes haven’t failed me yet. I saw a key ingredient was bean paste but didn’t specify what kind. As a home cook who rotates between Korean and Japanese food, fermented bean paste is a pantry staple. I had a choice between Japanese Miso and Korean Duenjang and I’m guessing Sichuan cuisine has its own version. I substituted the bean paste with the Korean duenjang because it has a much more pungent and intense flavor than Japanese miso, which I thought was a closer substitution to the flavors I’ve experienced in ma-po tofu. And it turned out lovely! I also happened to have some Sichuan peppercorn that I’ve never used. I toasted and crushed them to garnish I had an impression that it would be overly spicy so didn’t mix it in for the kids, but it’s actually mild and has a licorice-like flavor. Amazing. So next time, I’ll be including it in the entire dish for the kids as well.
Served with a side of veggies and mixed grain rice, I would also file this under healthy and kid friendly, and easy!
After the jump is the recipe from Epicurious.com that I adapted. Enjoy!
Note: After looking up several recipes, it seems this dish is traditionally spicy and fiery, this version with the Korean fermented bean paste was not. It just has the lovely fermented pungent umami flavors that my kids love. I’ll probably try one of the spicier versions with its just me and the hubby.
Image credit: splendidtable.org