Ma Po Tofu – 麻婆豆腐

My first official #Veguary post. The yummy, spicy, mouth numbing Sichuanese tofu favourite. This isn’t the first veggiefied Chinese dish I’ve done. Like before you can use the exact amounts of real pork mince or vegetarian substitute. You have to eat this with rice, no exceptions.

Serves 4.

Ma Po Tofu:
450 g tender tofu (not too silken)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp ground garlic
1 tbsp grated ginger
100 g mince (vegetarian or pork)
2 tbsp chilli bean paste
1 tsp fermented black beans, rinsed and lightly mashed
1 tsp garlic and black bean sauce
100 ml stock (veg or chicken)
pinch of sugar
1 tsp light soy
salt to taste
white pepper to taste
2 tbsp spring onions, finely sliced
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 pinch of white sesame seeds to garnish

Cut the tofu into 2 cm cubes. Place them in a large enough frying pan and carefully add boiling water to the pan until they are covered then add a small pinch of salt. This will make the tofu more tender to the bite. Set aside while you cook the rest.

Wok on medium-high heat. Once hot, add oil. When the oil is almost smoking, add the Sichuan peppercorns, chilli flakes and ginger. Stir until fragrant. Add your mince and stir fry until browned.

Lower the heat and add the garlic, chilli bean paste, and black beans. I like to add the garlic and black bean sauce for that extra black bean punch. The oil should get lovely and red.

Add the stock and carefully drain the tofu and add to the wok. Season to taste with the sugar, soy and white pepper. Taste it before you add any extra salt, it should taste spicy and really rich. Simmer for at least 5 minutes.

You’re ready to serve up. Finish with the spring onions, a drizzle of sesame oil and sprinkle of sesame seeds.

 

Lotus Root & Braised Pork Belly in Fermented Tofu Sauce – 蓮藕燜豬肉

lotus root braised pork bellyThere are times when the evenings are too cold in London, work is too stressful and I just feel a bit homesick and really miss Hong Kong. At times like these, it’s always that taste-of-home-like-mum-makes-it which really hits the spot. This particular dish is a Cantonese staple and a huge favourite of mine. It’s salty, saucy and you have to eat it with rice. The lotus root is a vegetable that has starchy potato like qualities whilst also keeping a satisfying bite, and the fermented tofu sauce has a strong umami flavour. I’ve read that it’s been likened to cheese, but I guess it’s just one of those things that I’ve eaten from childhood so it’s just fermented tofu flavour to me. So first things first you’ll probably need to get your mitts on some fermented tofu (紅腐乳) from your local oriental supermarket. There are also dried mushrooms in this dish, so you will need to pre-soak these in a bowl of water with another bowl stacked on top to fully rehydrate them for at least an hour.

Lotus Root & Braised Pork Belly:
500 g pork belly
500 g lotus root
6 dried shitake mushrooms, pre-soaked and halved
2 inch knob of ginger
3-4 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 bricks fermented red bean curd (紅腐乳)
2 star anise
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp rice wine
1 tbsp sesame oil
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar

Cut the pork belly into 2-3 inch chunks. Set aside. Peel the piece of ginger and with the large flat side of a meat cleaver SMASH IT FLAT, peel the garlic and repeat the smashing (if you don’t have a big meat cleaver, a meat tenderiser is fine). Peel and cut the lotus root into similar sizes to your pork and give the occasionally large piece a similar smash with the side of the cleaver (violent hey? Good for de-stressing this). My mum tells me it’s to get more flavour in, I think she just likes smashing things. Rinse off the lotus root and add leave them in a container full of water and a bit of salt to stop them from discolouring.

You now want to make a simple marinade. In a separate mixing bowl (large enough for all the pork) add the light soy, dark soy, rice wine, sesame oil, salt and sugar. Stir thoroughly and set aside.

Get your wok on medium to high heat and when the wok is nice and hot add your vegetable oil, once this is piping hot add the ginger then the garlic and flavour that oil but be careful not to burn the garlic. Remove the garlic and ginger and set aside. You now want to sear the pork belly, it’s okay not to thoroughly cook it at this stage as it will go through a lot of braising, just carefully brown each side of the pork.

Once this is done, remove the pork and place it in the marinade, coat evenly and set aside.

With your wok still on, add back the ginger and the garlic and stir fry until fragrant again. Add to this the mushroom halves. Once they start smelling lovely add the fermented tofu with a cup of water and use the wok spatula to flatten and mix the blocks into a paste. Sieve the lotus root from the water and add the root to the wok. Stir stir stir. Coat coat coat. Now add the pork belly and all the marinade from the bowl. Finally add the star anise and enough water to just coat everything. Take the heat down to a simmer and leave for 2 hours always making sure to stir everything up occasionally and top up the water if needed. Test the pork, once this is soft and tender you’re ready to go. I hope you made some rice with that.

Simple Cold Tofu – 冷豆腐

Cold TofuHappy Easter everyone! It’s sunny and I’ve had a pretty eventful and relaxing break. What more could you ask for? House parties, brunch, museums, coffee, catchups, drinks, potluck, cleaning, DIY, bookkeeping….*tick tick tick tickety tick*

So my excuse for the lack of posting was that I was actually in the Alps snowboarding and drinking hot wine with friends in this beautiful winter wonderland magical paradise. I’m not going to lie, it was amazing and sadly I’m already starting to forget that delicious feeling of breathing in frosty air. Prior to my week off in the snow I went to nutritionist who not only put me on a probiotic replacement therapy course, but also kindly informed me that I should avoid wheat and dairy for a month…to which I simply replied:

“But, I’m going to France!”

It was tough, but I think I did alright (a mad crazed fondue incident aside). Which brings me neatly (not really) to this popular tofu dish that I make all the time, which made not one but three appearances during my Chinese New Year shin dig. And happily for others out there who are vegetarian, wheat and dairy intolerant, you too can make and consume this dish.

Simple Cold Tofu:
A packet of silken tofu - firm or soft good
Spring onions - finely chopped
2 tbsp light soy sauce (GF if poss)
2 tsp dark soy sauce
(GF if poss)
2 tsp Sesame oil
1/2 tsp Fresh ginger - grated
1 tbsp mushroom floss
pinch chilli flakes or fresh chilli
pinch sesame seeds
1 tbsp roasted peanuts - crushed

If you have time to kill, the following will make the tofu even silkier and remove some of that out-of-a-box taste. It’s not necessary, but it’s nicer. Get it out of its packaging and place it on a small plate. Boil a pot of water with enough water to submerge your tofu. Once boiled, remove the pot from the heat and submerge the tofu and plate for 20 minutes. Drain, and set it aside to cool. You can put it over ice, or whack it in the fridge, it’s up to you.

When you’re ready to serve, slice the tofu thinly, drizzle with the soy sauces and sesame oil, get the spring onions on. Add the chilli, grated ginger, sesame seeds, peanuts and mushroom floss*…

*Okay, I probably need an aside is needed for this little addition. This is the vegetarian version of ingredient that for health/religious reasons my mum no longer really eats so I get gifted the veggie version whenever I go back to Hong Kong. But for those of you relatively au fait with Chinese or Thai snack foods, the following statement is irrefutable: Pork floss is delicious.

If you have never heard of pork floss, it is *exactly* as it says on the tin. It’s seasoned pork that’s spun into a savoury meaty candy floss. I don’t know how they do it, but it’s that kind of black food magic which makes the world go round. Go try some. Preferably on those moorish spicy rice crackers…who do I know in Thailand at the moment to get me some?…who…do…I…

…hang on. Sorry I got side tracked. Basically, you get it. This tofu dish is supremely adaptable. If you’ve got your three main flavours of soy, sesame oil and spring onions, you can add essentially anything you want. Be it crushed garlic, a splash of black chinese vinegar, a raw quail egg, natto, grated yam, umeboshi, grated carrot, a thousand year old egg, coriander. Maybe not everything I’ve listed at once. Experiment and make some: it’s simple.

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