RECIPE: THE BEST VEGAN MAPO TOFU EVER

It’s no secret that I’m big on mapo tofu. Possibly the most famous dish to come out of Sichuan, mapo tofu is one of those ‘last meal’ dishes I don’t think I could ever get sick of. Surprisingly easy to make and packing a giant flavor punch, it’s rich, creamy, spicy, numbing, and umami all at once. A bowl of this over steaming hot rice is the ultimate comfort food. This vegan mapo tofu recipe, made with shiitake mushroom instead of the usual pork or beef, happens to be one of the deepest, most flavorful I’ve ever had.

The secret to a truly great mapo tofu is its sauce, more specifically, the doubanjiang or preserved fava bean paste, not to be confused with preserved black bean paste or soybean paste, sometimes called by the same name! Doubanjiang is colloquially known as the “soul of Sichuan cuisine”, and for good reason, its deep, savory, complex flavors develop over time in earthen crocks left out to ferment under the sun for anywhere from a month to several years. It lends its iconic flavor to dishes like mapo tofu, twice-cooked pork, hot pot and so many more. 

For this recipe, I recommend using Fly By Jing’s premium three year aged doubanjiang (the best one commercially available anywhere and produced in the oldest doubanjiang factory in Pixian county) but mixing with a regular one like this, as un-aged doubanjiang has a brighter, redder color while the aged has much deeper flavor but is darker. So if the recipe calls for 2 tbsp of doubanjiang, use 1 tbsp of aged, and 1 tbsp of regular. You’ll also need a good chili oil (recipe below) and Sichuan Chili Crisp if you have it, fermented black beans and Sichuan pepper.

RECIPE

300g tofu cut into cubes (I prefer the texture of softer tofu but regular works as well)
1 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms (dried is important as it has much more concentrated umami flavor than fresh)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp minced ginger
2 tbsp Doubanjiang (fermented fava (broad) bean paste)
2 tbsp Sichuan Chili Crisp
3 tbsp chili oil (*super easy recipe for this below, but you can substitute with regular oil for less heat if you'd like)
1 tbsp fermented black beans
1/2 cup stock or bone broth (you can also substitute the water used for soaking shiitakes)
1 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 1 tbsp water
1/2 tsp whole Sichuan pepper
1 pinch ground roasted Sichuan pepper (roasting right before grinding releases maximum flavor)
3 scallions, whites cut in 1 inch pieces, greens thinly sliced

  1. Soak dried shiitake mushrooms in hot water until rehydrated and soft enough to pulse in a food processor or chop into very small pieces, set aside. I sometimes add a splash of soy sauce in the water at this point to give the mushrooms extra flavor)

  2. Boil tofu briefly in salted water, use a colander if you’d like to keep it from breaking, set aside. This is so that the cubes have a better texture and retain their shape more during cooking.

  3. Heat up a basicchili oil* in a hot wok, add minced garlic and ginger and fry until fragrant. You can also use regular oil if you want it less spicy. Add mushroom, doubanjiang, Sichuan Chili Crisp, fermented black beans and whole Sichuan pepper, and fry quickly to avoid burning

  4. Add stock and bring to boil, add scallion whites, slide tofu into wok and stir gently with a rubber spatula to prevent it from breaking, let the stock reduce for about five minutes. Then, add cornstarch mixture and stir in gently until sauce thickens.

  5. Transfer to serving bowl, sprinkle liberally with scallion greens and a generous pinch of ground roasted Sichuan pepper. Serve while hotwith rice. Vegan Mapo tofu doesn't store well because of the binding starch in the sauce, so try to eat it all right away, which shouldn't be a problem!

SICHUAN CHILI OIL RECIPE:

Use chili flakes or grind up your own dried chili of choice to a medium grind, where you still see bits of the skin and seed. Use Erjingtiao for a fruity, mild heat, or chili de arbol or thai birds eye if you want to dial up the heat in your dishes.

Heat up your choice of oil to 325F, rapeseed is commonly used in Sichuan for its warm nuttiness and numerous health benefits, (but I have not seen actual rapeseed oil in the West- it is not the same as canola oil!), but peanut, soybean or grapseed all work fine.

When the oil reaches temperature, pour it over your chili and stir with a rubber spatula. The rule of thumb is to use about 4:1 oil vs chili bits in volume. So if you’re using 1 cup of chili flakes, pour about 4 cups of oil on top. Some people like to add cassia bark, star anise, cardamom and ginger in the mix as well for added fragrance, and that’s up to you, just strain it out before you use the oil.

Once cool, the oil will develop its flavor over the next few days, so it will be best used after a short wait. Use in preparation of the vegan mapo tofu and drizzle the rest over everything you eat.