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Ma Po, in Chinese, means 'pock-marked old lady'. It refers to a famous Szechwan chef's wife, who created this dish in the 19th century in the provincial capital, Chengdu. Be warned! Ma Po Dofu is hot and spicy, and tofu has never tasted like this before! For a vegetarian version, omit the meat, add more tofu and, after blanching, place in the marinade ingredients for 30 minutes. Brown bean paste/sauce is salty brown sauce made from fermented soybeans, and is found in jars at most Asian markets. It is also known as yellow bean paste/sauce, soy bean condiment, "Yuan Shai Shih" or "Mo Yuen Shih". If unavailable, substitute with black bean sauce. For the Szechwan chile paste, I substituted "toban jiang", (also known as "toban jan/jyan"). Try to obtain the Szechwan peppercorns. They are what give Szechwan cuisine its distinctive flavor. This delicious dish is loosely adapted from a recipe in "Mrs. Chiang's Szechwan Cookbook". It looks complicated, but I assure you it isn't! Just assemble all the ingredients before cooking.
- 1⁄2 lb ground beef (authentic) or 1⁄2 lb pork
- 3 inches fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
- 1⁄4 cup tree ears dried mushrooms (about 1/2 ounce) or 1⁄4 cup dried shiitake mushroom (about 1/2 ounce)
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 lb firm tofu, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (or smaller if preferred)
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 6 whole canned water chestnuts, rinsed and finely chopped
- 4 green onions, sliced finely
- 3 tablespoons peanut oil
- 2 -3 teaspoons brown bean sauce (or substitute black bean sauce)
- 2 -3 teaspoons szechwan chili sauce (or substitute Asian hot chile sauce with garlic)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 1⁄2 cup water
- 1⁄2 teaspoon ground roasted szechuan peppercorns, to taste
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1⁄2 cup chopped cilantro
- freshly cooked rice
- 1 spring onion, sliced finely
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons rice wine or 2 tablespoons dry sherry
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- Place 1 tablespoon of the chopped ginger in a medium-sized bowl, and reserve the remainder.
- Add the remaining marinade ingredients to the bowl (1 sliced spring onion, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 2 tablespoon of Chinese rice wine, 2 teaspoons cornstarch), and mix well.
- Add the ground beef or pork, give it another stir and set aside for approx 30 minutes.
- Place the tree ears or shiitake mushrooms in small bowl, pour over boiling water, and soak for about 15 minutes until they are soft and gelatinous.
- Drain the soaked tree ears, rinse, remove hard stems, and slice finely.
- Blanch the tofu in boiling water for 2- 3 minutes, then drain.
- Combine the garlic with the reserved ginger, and process together with a stick blender or spice grinder until they form the consistency of a thick paste.
- Heat a wok over a moderately high flame.
- Add the peanut oil, and just as it is starting to smoke, add the garlic/ginger paste and stir-fry, stirring continuously, for approximately 30 seconds.
- Next add the brown bean paste, Szechwan chile paste, water chestnuts and tree ears, and stir-fry for a further minute.
- Give the meat mixture a stir, add it to the wok, and continue to stir-fry over high heat for two to three minutes, until it loses its pinkish color.
- Toss in the tofu and the sliced green onions and continue to toss and fry for about 45 seconds.
- Finally, add the sugar and stir-fry for another 30 seconds.
- Pour in the soy sauce& water, bring to the boil, then reduce heat to moderate and cook for a couple of minutes.
- Add the Szechwan pepper corns and stir thoroughly.
- If there appears to be too much liquid in the wok contents, thicken with a little cornstarch and water.
- Add 1 teaspoon sesame oil and season to taste with salt.
- Serve with steamed rice, and garnish with cilantro.