Vegan Mapo Tofu
As I was making this dish, I couldn’t help but reminiscing one of the best experiences in my life - a 3-weeks trip we took in 2012 to Sichuan and Tibet. It was such a surreal and other-worldly experience travelling by train from Chengdu to Lhasa across the Himalayas. The journey took 44 (!!!) hours, the symptoms of altitude sickness getting worse as we climbed to over 4,000m to then descend “slightly” to 3,656m - the altitude of Lhasa. During that journey (and most of the trip) all we ate was mapo tofu and Sichuanese stir-fried potatoes and I still very vividly remember the taste and smell and feeling of complete numbness in my mouth due to the insane amount of Sichuanese peppers!
Tofu (medium to firm) - 1 block, cubed
Sunflower oil - 1 tbsp
Garlic - 4 cloves, minced finely
Ginger - 1-inch piece, minced finely
Mushrooms (I used a mix of shiitake and button) - 200g, minced extra finely
Sichuan peppercorns - 1 tbsp, ground to a coarse powder
Dried red chillies - 4-5 broken (adjust to taste)
Sichuan chilli bean paste - 1 tbsp
Rice vinegar - 2 tbsp
Veggie stock - start with 1/2 cup and add more only if needed
Spring onion - 2 springs, chopped, white and green parts divided
Corn or tapioca starch - 1tsp dissolved in 2tsp of water to form a slurry
Salt to taste
Heat oil in a large wok and add minced ginger and garlic. Sauté for 20 seconds, then add mushrooms, dried chillies, fresh chillies, Sichuanese pepper and salt in rapid succession and mix. Sauté for one minute.
Increase heat and add rice vinegar. Cook on high flame for 30 seconds to let the vinegar aroma evaporate. Next, add veggie stock, then spring onions (white parts only) along with tofu cubes. Toss carefully to coat the tofu bits but making sure not to break them.
Lastly, create a little slurry by mixing starch and a couple tsp of water and add that to the wok. Stir well and turn off the flame immediately as this will thicken the gravy pretty quickly. Adjust consistency of your gravy by adding a bit more stock if needed. Sprinkle remaining spring onions (green parts) and serve along with brown rice.