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麻婆豆腐 January 24, 2008

Posted by merp in Food.

I haven’t talked about cooking much recently. Cooking goes on, though, all the time. It’s just that whipping out the camera when it’s all done and ready and you’re starving – well, it’s just not a natural impulse.

Besides, the blog-worthy meal is rare.*


This was last week, using two Chinese cookbooks liberated from the stuff I had stored at my mom’s (no longer!). As usual, I was uninspired when it came to presentation, not even serving it Chinese style (aka “family style”), but it got top marks for taste, authenticity and color!

Of course I didn’t exactly follow the recipes in the books. Here are my versions:

Sweet Potatoes with Bacon

(Adapted from The Heritage of Chinese Cooking by Elizabeth Chong [1993])

4 oz bacon, diced

4 cups sweet potatoes, cut into 1.5-in chunks

1 Tb (or more) hot chili bean paste

1 Tb hoisin sauce

1 scallions, chopped

In a saucepan, fry the bacon until browned. If necessary, drain off excess oil (you want about 3 Tb in there). Add sweet potatoes and toss to coat with oil. Add chili bean paste and hoisin sauce and toss to coat. Add water to barely cover potatoes. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 15 minutes, or till potatoes are soft. Add salt and pepper to taste if necessary (I found it wasn’t). Put in serving dish and top with scallions.

Veggie version (I didn’t make it this way, but here’s what I would do to eliminate the meat):

Skip the bacon. Use 3 Tb peanut oil instead. Simmer the potatoes in veggie boullion instead of plain water. Add toasted sesame seeds, peanuts, or sunflower seeds at the end for some textural interest. …And season with bacon salt!

Mapo Doufu** (麻婆豆腐)

This recipe came from a cheap little paperback I picked up in the Foreign Language Bookstore in Kunming, China, back in 1996:


Hardly a rare recipe, or an unusual version of it, but the instructions were very clear and the results were spot-on, which I thought impressive for an English-language cookbook published in China in the 1980s (Beijing, Women of China Special Series, 1986 – recipes by Zhang Desheng). The book does include some dishes much less common in these parts, like Squid Bites Doufu, Apple Doufu, Fish Maw Bean Curd, and Doufu Wearing Chicken’s Clothes. And I’m particularly curious about Egg Cuddles Doufu.

Mapo Doufu is, of course, the classic dish of Sichuan, and therefore reminds me of my “home” in China, Yunnan Province, just south of Sichuan. Not to say that Yunnanese cuisine is the same as Sichuanese – it’s not – but they do eat a lot of mapo doufu there. This version tasted authentically southwestern, though nowhere near as spicy as the mapo doufu I had at the restaurant in Chengdu, Sichuan, that supposedly invented it:


Chen Mapo Doufu Restaurant, Chengdu, July 2002 – now that’s how much huajiao to use!

On with the recipe (annotated and only slightly modified by me):

1 lb. tofu

1/4 cup cooking oil (peanut, preferably – and yes, you can get away with less)

2 oz. minced pork

1 tsp. chili pepper (by which is meant just powdered, dried chili peppers – not the Mexican spice blend that is usually in the jars labeled “chili powder” in American stores – and, if possible, a brand from China – chilis from different parts of the world really do taste quite different)

2 Tb hot chili bean sauce

2 tsp. minced fresh ginger

1 Tb. rice wine or sherry

2 Tb. soy sauce

1 cup broth

3 Tb. cornstarch mixed with water (or use less than half as much arrowroot powder – learned this the hard way, and that’s why mine looks rather glommy in the picture)

a couple of minced scallions

1-2 Tb hot chili oil

2 tsp Sichuan pepper, aka huajiao, aka mala pepper, aka “numbing pepper,” (in powder form) – at least that much. To taste, where “taste” = “as much as you can possibly stand.”
Salt, if still necessary after all that.

Dice the tofu into 1-centimeter cubes and parboil. Heat the oil on high until it smokes. Brown the pork. (I actually used a couple of pork sausage links we had on hand – defrosted them in a pan, peeled the skin off, and minced the insides – this was a good idea. Flavorful.) Add the chili powder, bean paste and ginger. Cook till the red oil comes out. Add rice wine, soy sauce, tofu, and broth. Lower heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Taste and add salt, if needed (doubt it would be). Add the cornstarch mixture and stir. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with scallions, chili oil and (lots of) Sichuan pepper/huajiao.


Veggie version: Pretty simple. Just skip the pork and be sure to use veggie broth. And, if you miss that porky flavor, season with bacon salt!

And finally….

Snow Peas

Rinse (and, if you’re not lazy like me, pull the strings off in case they’re tough). Heat 1 to 2 Tb sesame oil in skillet. Toss in a dried chili pepper or two (optional – I didn’t this time) and a couple of cloves of crushed garlic. Add the peas and stir fry at fairly high heat until they are bright green, seasoning with salt and white pepper to taste. Remove from heat (and pan!) the instant they’ve almost all turned bright green to keep them from overcooking.

*I did make some fantastically good (and even pretty) Christmas cookies last month – if I do say so – but failed utterly to photograph or record them in any way.

**Tofu = Dofu = Doufu. The latter is the correct pinyin spelling.



1. v - January 25, 2008

I think your presentation is beautiful. The orange and green are just perfect together.

I’m dying to know what kind of clothes chickens wear, so look forward to your pictures of that.

2. Curly Sue - January 28, 2008

Beautiful, Tanya. That picture made me so hungry!

3. Boffcat - February 11, 2008

Mmmmmmm, I can’t believe I only just noticed this – I love mapu dofu! I’ll be trying this as soon as, erm, I can persuade myself to get off my behind and do something more culinarily demanding than pouring milk over muesli.

4. Summer Soba Salad « merp - July 12, 2008

[…] this week, in a dinner for one (A. was at a conference all week), another tofu recipe from the Doufu Devotee […]

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