One of the foods John and I have discovered while living here in Japan is Mabo Dofu (mapo tofu in chinese). It's a spicy, hearty, delicious Chinese dish made of tofu and ground pork that we love. I always think it's so interesting that in the US tofu is though of as a meat substitute, while in Japan it's just another ingredient that is often cooked with meat. While the Chinese version uses sichuan pepper, the Japanese version uses sansho, a Japanese pepper closely related to the sichuan pepper corn. Sansho has a lemony flavor and like sichuan pepper creates a tingly sensation on the tongue and lips. The actual spiciness of the dish come from the bright red tobanjan paste.
I've wanted to try this recipe since I first flipped through Japanese Soul Cooking last July, but I was afraid anything I made wouldn't measure up to what I've had in restaurants. Last week I bought the ingredients and then put it off for a couple days out of nervousness, but finally gave it a shot. Let me just say WOW, it is everything I hoped it would be! John took one bite and said it tasted exactly like it was supposed to.
Japanese mabo dofu is less spicy than the Chinese version, in accordance with the Japanese palate, but this recipe is pretty spicy - definitely calibrated to American tastes. John didn't think it was too spicy, but I refilled my water more than once during dinner. If you're sensitive to spicy foods, make sure you've got lots of rice and something cold to drink, or use a little less tobanjan.
The recipe was clear and easy to follow, as they usually are. The one thing I will emphasize is the step where it tells you to break the cooked ground pork up with a fork. I didn't break mine up enough, and John and I both noticed - you really want to smash it up a lot! I also used silken tofu in place of firm (and didn't follow the procedure to press more water out) because I think the restaurants here use silken tofu as well, but John disagreed and thought it would be better with firm tofu. I'm not sure I agree, but the takeaway here is probably that you can get away with either and should definitely use they type you prefer (if you have a tofu preference.) The last step is to sprinkle the sansho on "to taste." I didn't have any idea how much to use, but since it won't greatly impact the spiciness it's not something to worry too much about. I just pretended it was a salt shaker and gave the dish a quick sprinkle, and then put it on the table to add more if we wanted.
I definitely recommend this recipe, and encourage you to try mabo dofu if you've never had it. I know a lot of people think they don't like tofu (me too, some days!) but this dish is too great to miss out on.
|Tofu is such a funny food|
|Time to eat!|