Winter is not giving up a tough fight in these last few days of its demise. I am eagerly awaiting the spring equinox as if magically all will be warmer and sunnier on my side of the earth. The morning light is showing itself earlier so that when I walk out the door at 7:15 a.m. to accompany Mila to school we no longer walk in the dark.
Despite the cold, even the birds are beginning to think spring is here. I am stirred awake by their morning chorus at 5 a.m. It’s a wild guess because I don’t actually rise out of bed to check the time. It is still nocturnally dark out at this time so I snooze for at least another hour to their songs. I love this bit of my day.
I crave spicy and stewy-ish types of meals in cold weather and this very simple Ma Po tofu dish hits the spot. My small bag of special fermented black beans, heidouchi (黑豆豉), given to me by my aunt in Taiwan is tucked in the freezer to use for dishes like these—definitely not to be confused with Mexican black beans please! They are basically dried out soy beans fermented with salt. It’s not quite the same as the jarred black bean sauce which you will find easily in the Asian grocers but you can use it as a replacement. These beans are pungent and natural. They really offer an umami tone to any dish. Have a poke around in the Asian grocery stores to see if you can find some and give it a try! They can easily be added to poultry, seafood, meat and vegetable dishes.
Ma Po Tofu- Without the Pork Bits
• 500 grams soft tofu, cut into 1 inch cubes
• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 1 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorn
• 1 tablespoon fermented black beans(黑豆豉)
• A knob of ginger, freshly grated
• 3 cloves garlic, smashed
• 1 tablespoon spicy doubanjiang(豆瓣酱), fermented bean paste
• 1 teaspoon Five Spice powder
• 30 grams wood ear black fungus mushrooms, rehydrated (in tepid water for an hour) and chopped—optional
• 1 cup vegetable broth or water
• 1 tablespoon cornstarch, mixed with 3 tablespoons water
• A couple of scallions, chopped
Add oil in a wok or large cooking pan over medium heat.
Fry the Szechuan peppercorn and black beans. Stir for about a minute then add the ginger, garlic and the spicy fermented bean paste. Stir until fragrant.
Add the chili powder, five spice powder, and the wood ear black fungus mushroom. Stir for about another minute.
Add the vegetable broth and bring it to a low boil.
Slide in the tofu. Stir gently making sure not to break the tofu into smaller bits.
Drizzle in the cornstarch water mixture, cover the wok and let it simmer for 5 minutes.
Garnish with chopped scallions when ready to serve.
I toned this recipe down but it’s probably still spicier for those who are not accustomed to the citrusy numbing tones of the Szechuan peppercorn. Usually this is topped over a bowl of rice.