Everyday Vegan Mapo Tofu Recipe
Spicy, Szechuan Mapo Tofu is probably my favorite way to eat tofu. Soft, slippery pieces of tofu are dripping in fiery ginger and garlic spiked chili oil that's perfectly soaked up by white rice. The one problem? That delicious sauce is like 90% cheap, inflammatory oil, and you eat a LOT of it when you get Mapo Tofu. I still spring for the authentic version when I'm in Chicago's Chinatown (my go-to is Lao Szechuan), but for home, I wanted to create a lighter and easier to make everyday version. I also add some roasted eggplant and spinach to this dish (not traditional!) to make it more of a meal-in-a-pot, rather than needing to make a variety of dishes for a balanced meal. Since this sauce is broth-based (aka water-based) instead of oil-based, it does have less depth and a different texture that the original but I find that it hits the spot when the Mapo Tofu craving hits. See more ingredient notes below the recipe.
for roasted eggplant:
1 small eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
drizzle of avocado or grapeseed oil
sprinkle of salt
for Mapo Tofu:
3-4 tablespoons chili oil
1 bunch of scallions, ends trimmed and the rest thinly sliced
3 tablespoons minced ginger
6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1.5 cups mushroom broth (can sub vegetable broth or water)
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons black bean garlic sauce (optional)
1/4 teaspoon ground szechuan peppercorns, separated
1 14-oz brick of soft tofu, cut into 3/4" cubes
2 tablespoons of arrowroot
2 handfuls baby spinach
1. Toss cubed eggplant with oil and salt and roast on a parchment-lined sheet tray at 400 for 25-30 minutes. (I get this going first, then prep the rest of the ingredients--by the time the eggplant is done, the rest of the mapo tofu is too!)
2. Heat chili oil in a large pot. Add scallions, ginger, and garlic and let sizzle for 1-2 minutes, stirring. Add water, tamari, mirin, black bean garlic sauce, and 1/8 teaspoon of Szechuan peppercorns. Bring up to a simmer. Add tofu cubes and simmer until eggplant is done.
3. Taste sauce (it will be very watery) for seasoning and add more tamari, mirin, or chili oil if desired. Dissolve 1 tablespoons of arrowroot in 1 tablespoons of cold water in a small cup, and add this mixture to the boiling chili sauce. Stir with a wooden spoon--you'll notice the sauce starts to thicken immediately and goes a little cloudy. Keep stirring for 1 minute until its well mixed in. Add roasted eggplant and spinach and stir to combine, being careful not to break up the tofu too much. Serve with brown or white rice.
I was able to get all of these items at Whole Foods in the international aisle and the spice aisle, but an Asian grocery store would have them as well. A lot of Asian pantry items can be high in sugar and additives, so choose the best options that work for you.
- TOFU: use soft tofu if you can find it. It soaks up the sauce and has a silky texture. If you can't find it, get silken tofu or firm tofu depending on your preference for slippery or chewy tofu (just don't get extra firm).
- CHILI OIL: get the Asian-style chili oil that's infused with ginger and garlic or make your own to use a higher quality oil.
- TAMARI: I always have tamari on hand, but any kind of soy sauce will do.
- MIRIN: A Japanese cooking wine that adds acidity and sweetness. A more common Chinese cooking wine would be Shoaxing, but like the tamari, I always have mirin on hand. I like Eden Organic since there is no added sugar.
- BLACK BEAN GARLIC SAUCE: This ingredient is totally optional but it adds that fermenty, umami depth to the sauce. I use Lee Kum Kee brand. You can try whole black garlic or black garlic puree for a more wholesome sub or just leave it out.
- SZECHUAN PEPPERCORNS: You can get away with black pepper in this recipe, but for it to really be mapo tofu-esque, you'll want to use szechuan peppercorns. They are more floral and tingly than black pepper (not hot spicy) and provide a "numbing" sensation that's crucial to this dish, traditionally. I picked some up at a spice store, but I've also seen them with the pepper grinders at Whole Foods.