Ma Po Tofu—Without the Pork Bits

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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.

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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.

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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(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.

Hijiki Tofu Patty

Reminiscing my Dojo days in NYC...

Back in the 80's and early 90's, vegetarian restaurants were few and far between to be found in New York.  As far as I could recollect there was Dojo which was a vegetarian friendly restaurant, Angelica's Kitchen, a vegetarian restaurant and Souen, a macrobiotic restaurant.   I ate at these places so often when I was a student at NYU that it has pretty much shaped the way I eat regularly.  I love all things tofu, sea vegetables, rice, beans, and veggies.  Give me a hijiki tofu burger from Dojo's or a dragon bowl from Angelica's anyday.

Since Dojo's hijiki tofu burger and their carrot ginger dressing recipe are top secret,  I can only do a rendition of it— but it's oooh, so goodThis is one of my fave comfort foods and it runs in the family. 

Serve it along with some brown rice, fresh raw veggies, topped off with Dojo style carrot ginger dressing. 



The yin and the yang of food...

Growing up my mum always told me "oh, you're too yin",  meaning that my body was deficient in qi or vital energy.  I always had cold hands and feet no matter how hot and humid it was on a summer day which is a symptom of yin.  I even wore socks under my duvet covers.   She would place bowls of tonic soups in front of me urging me to eat.  Soups such as yam and ginger slices, and Chinese herbal chicken soup comprising of korean ginseng, red dates (jujubes or hong zao), astragalus root (huang qi), codonopsis root (dang shen), and Chinese yam (huai shan) . Then there were the tea concoctions such as astragalus, red dates, and goji berries.   These replenishing soups and teas were to increase my yang in order to restore the balance in my body.  If I had chapped lips, I was suddenly told "oh, you're too yang", and that was quickly followed up with more soups and teas such as the green bean soup (mung beans or lu duo) with rock sugar and the chrysanthemum tea to increase my yin.

The relative levels of yin and yang in our bodies are continuously changing and they need to coexist harmoniously.  Most of us are naturally more yin or yang.   When out of balance symptoms can be observed like those cold feet and chapped lips of mine.

Hijiki is one of hundreds of seaweed types that can be classified as a brown seaweed and is considered yang.  Seaweeds break down into three broad basic categories: red algae, green algae and brown algae.  You can buy dried hijiki at any of the Japanese or Korean food stores on or near rue St Anne in the 1er or 2e arrondisement of Paris.  It is first soaked in water and then drained to use in cooking with other ingredients.

Hijiki Tofu Patty


Soak hijiki in 2 cups of water for 30 minutes.
Press and drain tofu for 20-30 minutes.

INGREDIENTS//yields 8-10 patties or 4 burger-size patties

• 5 grams dried hijiki seaweed
• 12 ounces firm tofu
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 teaspoon ginger, fresh and finely grated
• 1 medium carrot, grated
• pinch of ground white pepper
• 1 tablespoon white miso
• 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
• 1 teaspoon tamari sauce
• 2 scallions (white and light green parts finely chopped)
• 2 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted


Soak dried hijiki in warm water for 30 minutes, rinse and then drain.  Set it aside.

To rinse and drain liquid from the tofu.  Cut through tofu in 1/2 inch slices and press between heavy cutting boards to drain any excess water for about 30 minutes or simply use a cheese cloth to squeeze out the excess water.  The tofu will be crumbled anyway.

Sauté the carrots, garlic, and ginger in a tablespoon of vegetable oil until the carrots are limp.  Add a pinch of white pepper.  In a bowl, add the miso and crumble the tofu.  Use your hands to mix the crumbled tofu and the miso paste together. 

Stir in the cooked carrots and the hijiki.  Then add the tamari sauce, sesame oil, scallions, and sesame seeds. 
Mix it all together.

Form the mixture into round patties and place them on a baking sheet.  Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes at 175° C (350° F).

Carrot Ginger Dressing

INGREDIENTS//yields 1.5 cup dressing

• 3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
• 1 large shallot, peeled and chopped
• 1/2 thumbs length fresh ginger
• 1 tablespoon sweet white miso
• 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
• 2 tablespoons roasted sesame seed oil
• 1/4 cup grapeseed oil, olive oil, or vegetable oil
•  4 tablespoons water


In a blender or food processor add the carrots, shallot, and ginger and pulse until finely chopped.

Scrape down the sides with a spatula.  Add the miso, vinegar and sesame seed oil and blend together.

Add some water and slowly drizzle in the oil. 


I also like to add zucchini to the hijiki tofu patty mix.  You can simply add a half zucchini (grated) in with the carrot and sauté together.   Then follow the rest of the directions.  As I've said before any extra veggies I can sneak into a recipe makes me feel good, especially when I watch my kids gobble it up!