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Mapo Tofu Recipe (Weeknight-Friendly) | Kitchn

Cubes of tofu are braised in an almost too-hot-to-handle sauce flavored with fermented black beans and chili paste, and dotted with pieces of crispy beef or pork.

Serves4 to 6

Prep20 minutes

Cook30 minutes

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For years, my partner and I argued over the merits of tofu. I defended my favorite soy products from accusations of being tasteless, amorphous, and simply dull. It wasn’t until I rediscovered my family’s recipe for my favorite dish that I found my best tofu defense. An authentic, lovingly prepared mapo tofu is undoubtedly the surest (and quickest) way to set tofu detractors straight. And, of the many words that could be used to describe this classic Chengdu dish, “dull” is simply not one of them. 

In the Sichuan province, known for its eponymous mouth-numbing peppercorns, mapo tofu literally translates to pockmarked grandmother, which I acknowledge is a none-too-appealing descriptor. Putting its name aside, mapo tofu is one of the most unctuous and flavor-packed specialties of the region. When I was a child, I loved the dish for its almost too-hot-to-handle sauce dotted with silken bits of tofu and crispy beef or pork, depending on its maker. The spice level and bit of funk comes from the addition of fermented black beans and chili bean paste.

While most Chinatown supermarkets will sell pre-packaged mapo tofu sauces, my ever-engineering parents experimented with their own ratios and recipes, swapping out beef for our preferred pork, and adding a bit more sugar than usual to account for their Shanghainese palettes. 

My favorite thing about my family recipe — like many Sichuan recipes — is that there is no right answer. Just about any ingredient amount can be increased or decreased according to taste, and aside from the tofu, chili paste, and fermented beans, there are few “staples” in the recipe. Because creativity was our only limiting factor, we’ve played around with making it vegetarian, less spicy, or more acidic to suit our tastes and preferences. And that’s exactly how a family recipe ought to be. 

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