punchy winter warmer: vegan mala tofu

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I’ve found that tofu is one of those controversial foods that generates mixed feelings amongst people, and I must confess I often dont enjoy eating it at restaurants – there seems to be an overwhelming occurrence of tasteless rubbery tofu thrown into takeout pad thai, or silken tofu sitting in a bath of gluggy sauce.

For me, growing up, tofu was deliciously deep-fried at yumcha on Sundays or served up super spicy at home. Mum always said tofu is best if its really chilli-hot, and she’s right. But for some reason, no matter how much I try, I just cant recreate mum’s recipe. I guess you cant recreate your favourite tastes of childhood.

Instead, I’ve been working on my vegetarian Ma La Tofu (má là meaning numbing and spicy).

Ma La Tofu is a punchy and exciting dish due to the chilli bean paste, chillies, and Sichuan pepper powder. I find its a great mid week meal as its quick to throw together and always hits the spot after a long day at work.

Below is my adaptation. The fried tofu is a bit naughty, but lends a great texture in the absence of meat. I personally tend not to use corn flour as I hate the gluggy texture that often comes with using it.

vegan mala tofu

Ingredients:

  • 250g silken tofu, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 100g fried tofu, cut into tiny cubes (can be found in the frozen food section of most Asian Grocery stores)/
  • 4 tbs peanut oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 2 tbs chilli bean sauce (this is chilli and fermented beans, commonly found in Asian Grocery stores)
  • 1 tbs blackbean sauce/paste
  • 1 tsp Sichuan pepper powder
  • 1 cup stock (I use salt reduced, or it ends up too salty)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbs light soy sauce
  • 3 spring onions, chopped
  • fresh chillies or dried chillies to taste.

a dash of cornflour and water if needed to thicken. Use two parts cornflour to one part water.

Method:

  1. Fill a bowl with boiling water and slide in the silken tofu. This allows the tofu to be gently warmed.
  2. Heat half the oil (2 tbs) in a wok over high heat.
  3. Add the firm tofu and stirfry until nice and crispy.
  4. Reduce the heat to medium and add the minced garlic and ginger. Add fresh chilli if using it. Stirfry until fragrant.
  5. Push everything to one side. Add the rest of the oil, the chili bean paste, blackbean paste and sichuan pepper. Stirfry until the oil is a deep red. Be careful as the mixture is likely to spit.
  6. Pour in the stock, sugar and soy sauce. Stir well.
  7. Carefully drain the warmed silken tofu. Slide the tofu into the sauce.
  8. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes.
  9. If needed, add the cornflour and water mix to thicken the sauce.

Note: Silken tofu breaks very easily so be gentle with your stirring.

Serve with rice topped with the spring onion, alongside your favourite asian greens.