Mapo Tofu Goes Vegetarian –


By David Tanis | April 17, 2015

Evan Sung for The New York Times

Mapo tofu, that aromatic dish of braised tofu with minced pork (sometimes beef) in a deeply savory sauce, is a wildly popular menu item in many Chinese restaurants. I gladly order it whenever possible. Just a spoonful or two with steamed rice makes a pleasant beginning to a multicourse meal.

At home, though, mapo tofu can be a light meal on its own. If you need dinner in a hurry, you’ll find it makes a rapid transition from wok to table. Though the dish is complex in flavor, the preparation is surprisingly simple. And even a novice cook can pull it off. It may take a trip to an Asian grocery to obtain the few required ingredients, but some supermarkets can provide them, too.

Fermented black beans are necessary, but just a tablespoon. The spicy red fermented broad bean paste from Sichuan Province called doubanjiang is the other key ingredient. (A small jar of each will keep indefinitely in the fridge.) Spring for Sichuan peppercorns, too; their tingly bite complements the hot red pepper and provides roundness.

The question is, can mapo tofu be made without meat and still satisfy on every level? Answer: absolutely, positively, yes. This meatless version with fresh shiitake mushrooms is completely satisfying. The chopped shiitake caps stand in nicely (the stems are simmered to make a quick broth). When you taste the finished rust-colored sauce, with ginger, garlic, sesame oil and scallions added to the kicky base, you’ll agree.

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