Vegan Mapo Tofu has been highly requested here on Mary’s Test Kitchen and, you know, I love giving you what you want! Mapo Tofu is one of the best-known dishes from Sichuan cuisine. Intensely flavoured with fermented ingredients, spicy hot (which you can adjust), along with a curious mouth-tingling sensation from Sichuan peppers. It’s traditionally made with ground pork or beef but it’s easily veganized. Click here for the printable recipe.
Video tutorial for Mapo Tofu
There are a few special ingredients you’ll need to get at your local Asian store with a decent selection of Chinese ingredients or online.
First: fermented broad bean paste aka Dòubànjiàng. Look for the reference to Píxiàn, the county in Sichuan province famous for this stuff. This will give our Mapo Tofu it’s characteristic red colour. This stuff is strong. So when you’re at the store, you might even smell it before you see it. Maybe.
The brand I’m using is super salty as well (but don’t let that turn you off, it’s the good stuff). Kicks you in the face with that salt. Some are not as salty so you’ll want to give it a tiny taste; just dip the tip of a chopstick in. Taste as you go with this recipe so you can adjust easily and also get to know the ingredients. So you can do your own inventing later.
Next, you’ll want some dòuchǐ or dauh-sih; which are fermented black beans. If you’re not familiar with how to select dòuchǐ, try looking for the reference to Pixian. Without getting too much into it, they don’t have to be from there but there are other varieties and it can get confusing so might as well go straight for this kind. If all else fails, look for a Chinese brand. I’ve tried some Korean brands and they are not the same!
For both of these ingredients, you’ll want to chop them up finely so you and your guests don’t bite into super salty chunks which can ruin the experience. Ask me how I know.
One more special ingredient, whole Sichuan peppercorns which will give this dish it’s characteristic mouth-numbing sensation. It’s not spicy hot though, it doesn’t burn. It tingles and there’s a little floral essence to the flavour that I appreciate. So it’s up to you whether you want to include this but I highly encourage you just to try a bit if you’ve never tried it. It’s really interesting.
Toast them in a hot pan for less than 30 seconds until they just turn fragrant and ground give you the strongest flavour. Pre-ground stuff is almost completely useless but it’s better than no Sichuan pepper.
Then for the main ingredient: silken tofu also known as smooth tofu. The store-bought stuff is going to be a quite a bit firmer than the homemade silken tofu from the other week so it’ll hold together better in this dish. But hey, it’s your Mápó dòufu and there are no rules; use what you want.
Carefully cut the tofu into large bite-sized chunks. I like them big so even if they break down a little in the wok, we’ll still have nice sized pieces at the end. Simmer them in water for a few minutes, then drain and set aside. This step will firm up the tofu a bit more and you can add salt so that the tofu gets salty all the way inside. But truth be told, when I’m being lazy, I skip this.
I’m using a popular ground beef alternative to replace the traditionally used pork or beef. Making things easy. But you can also sub chopped mushrooms. A blend of shiitake and cremini would be really delicious.
We start with oil in the wok. When cooking more traditional Chinese food, my feeling is that a wok is best, even if you have to settle for a flat bottom wok. Some chefs will be passionate about this from a technical point of view but for me, it’s more about feeling, sentimentality than anything else. Make sure that wok is hot; I’m using high heat. And just brown up that ground. If you’re using mushrooms, you’ll cook until the mushrooms are well shrunk and fragrant. For this stuff, we just want to heat it through and get a little colour. I’ll add in some vegan Worcestershire sauce for some faux beefiness though, honestly, with all the other flavours we’ll have in this dish, it’s not really necessary. Finish the vegan meat with sesame oil.
Transfer that to a dish and set it aside and scrub out your wok if anything stuck. Now, you can fry the Dòubànjiàng, the fermented broad bean paste, over low-medium heat for about half a minute. Then the aromatics: garlic, ginger, scallions whites. And chopped dòuchǐ, fermented black beans. Let that sizzle, then you can add the rest of the ingredients, holding back the dark scallion parts, and let it come to a simmer. You’ll simmer about five minutes to let the flavours meld together. Use your spatula or wooden spoon to make sure the paste at the bottom gets brought up but be gentle so you don’t break the tofu.
Finally, add the dark green scallion bits for that freshness and colour. You could add more to this dish if you liked. Wood ear fungus is great in this. You could add some veggies. Some creamy steamed potatoes to soak up that sauce would be amazing. Taste early and often so you can adjust the flavour, especially for saltiness and heat. This is when I’ll add sugar to balance the spice and more water to dilute the sauce if it’s too intense.
The finishing touch is a wee bit of cornstarch mixed with water to thicken the sauce slightly. Help the sauce cling to the tofu. Once that’s bubbling again, it’s ready! Ready to serve over white rice. Even though I unexpectantly ran out of white rice and had to sub brown for this shoot. But make no mistake, this dish is a million and one times better over fragrant Jasmine rice. In fact, minus 50 points for the brown rice. Brown rice lovers, don’t fight me.
This spicy, intense, mouth-numbing dish with delicious, smooth tofu is worth it. If you’ve never cooked with silken tofu before, this is a great place to start. It’s cozy, warming and perfect for days like this. When it’s supposed to be spring but it’s still snowing. Or even in the summer when it’s hot and strangely, hot food can cool you down.
Printable recipe for Vegan Mapo Tofu
For this recipe, make sure to get authentic Broad Bean Paste from Pixian (pixian doubanjiang), fermented black beans (douchi), and whole Sichuan peppercorns for the best flavour.
For a demonstration and more details to make this dish easier to recreate at home, check out my video tutorial for vegan mapo tofu.
- neutral cooking oil (such as canola)
- 1 1/2 cups vegan 'ground beef' or 3 cups chopped mushrooms
- 1 teaspoon vegan Worcestershire sauce (optional)
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 24oz (700g) silken tofu (aka smooth tofu)
- 3 tablespoons doubanjiang (broad bean paste)
- 1 tablespoon douchi (fermented black beans)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons whole Sichuan peppercorns
- 4 scallions, chopped, dark green parts separated from white/light parts
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons grated ginger
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 2 1/2 cups water (or to taste)
- 1 teaspoon chilli oil or red chilli flakes (or to taste)
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons water
- Toast the peppercorns in a small warm pan over medium-high heat. Move the pan quickly over the heat to prevent burning and remove the peppercorns as soon as they smell fragrant. Grind the peppercorns in a spice grinder or mortar until they become a fine powder. Set aside.
- Cut the tofu into large bite-sized cubes. Simmer in water (1/2 teaspoon of salt optional) until they are heated through. Drain and set aside.
- Make sure the doubanjiang and douchi are chopped well.
- Heat a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat with a tablespoon of cooking oil. When hot, add the vegan ground or mushrooms. Add Worcestershire if desired. Cook until the vegan ground is nicely browned or until your mushrooms have fully shrunken and excess water has been cooked off. Finish with sesame oil. Remove from the wok or pan and set aside. Scrub away any bits that may have stuck to your wok, then put it back on the stove over low heat. Add a tablespoon of oil.
- Add the doubanjiang and let it sizzle for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add the douchi, ground Sichuan peppercorns, white parts of scallions, garlic and grated ginger. Stir-fry for about a minute until fragrant. Add the tofu, browned ground or mushrooms, and enough water to almost cover the tofu. Turn the heat up and let come to a simmer. Use a spatula to gently mix the ingredients without breaking the delicate tofu. Be sure to scrape the bottom to ensure no paste gets stuck and burned at the bottom.
- Taste and adjust seasonings. Add sugar if desired. Add more water if the sauce is too salty. Finish by adding the dark green scallion parts, chilli oil, and cornstarch slurry. Let it come to a simmer again and the vegan mapo tofu is done! Serve over white rice