Mapo Tofu

by Sarah

in Asian Dishes

mapo tofuGrowing up, my mom always cooked a vegetarian version of mapo tofu. It was one of my favorite dishes and I looked forward to it whenever she made this dish. For my mom, this dish was a great week-night dinner because it took about 20 minutes to make and could be scaled up with leftovers for lunch the next day. Although my mom has always worked full time, she made dinner every night that I can remember (something I have unfortunately not achieved) and through the years has perfected the art of fast but yummy dishes.

A few years ago, when I was living by myself and had no motivation to cook, I ordered mapo tofu delivery from a restaurant with the plan of aliquoting it into food prep bowls and eating it the rest  of the week. When I opened the plastic container, I was surprised there were little pieces of meat in the dish! In fact I learned this dish is generally made with ground meat in it, but we are generally not big meat eaters at home so I had never had mapo tofu with meat until relatively recently.

Since tasting both versions, I enjoy both the vegetarian and non-vegetarian version. Which is why this recipe can both be made vegetarian and with meat. The vegetarian version is printed below. To make the carnivorous version, stir fry 6 oz ground pork, then coat with dark soy sauce prior to adding the tofu sauce and tofu as you would normally do in the vegetarian version.

mapo tofu

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Mapo Tofu
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
  • 1 block firm tofu (12 oz)
  • 1 tablespoon hot chili bean sauce* (see note)
  • 1 inch ginger, minced
  • 3 stalks of scallions, whites only, minced (save green parts for garnish)
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons oil
  • ¾ cup stock (can use vegetable broth here or homemade stock from boiling veggies or meat)
  • ¼ cup water w/ 1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved inside
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Hoison sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  1. Make the sauce. Dissolve 1 tablespoon cornstarch in 1 water. Then mix with other sauce ingredients. Stir to mix. It's okay if it separates phase while you cook, you will stir it later. Set aside.
  2. Cut tofu into small cubes, about ½ inch in width. (I usually cut the block through the middle once horizontally, and then cut to make a grid on the tofu)
  3. Mince garlic and ginger. Alternatively combine in a food process and let it mince for you.
  4. Cut scallions to separate the white root area from the green leaf area. Chop the roots small and mix with the minced garlic and ginger. Chop the green leaves and set aside for garnish at the end.
  5. Heat oil in pot till hot (about 1 minute on high heat or 1.5 minutes on medium high)
  6. Add the garlic, scallions, ginger and stir for 20 seconds.
  7. Add hot chili bean sauce and stir fry for another 20 seconds.
  8. Add the 1 block of cut tofu, and stir very gently for 10 seconds. Don't push the tofu too hard, or it may break.
  9. Give the sauce a good stir, and add it to the tofu. Let the tofu boil in teh sauce until the sauce gets very thick. This took about 2-3 minutes for me.
  10. Serve hot!
*It is important to use the hot chili bean sauce (aka dou ban jiang). You can find it in Asian supermarkets in the jared sauces section. The sauce will be red with some real beans inside it too. The hot chili bean sauce is the basis for this dish. I don't recommend trying to replace it with another kind of sauce, but if you prefer a non-spicy Mapo Tofu you can try the regular chili bean sauce.

*To make the carnivorous version, stir fry 6 oz ground pork, then coat with dark soy sauce prior to adding the tofu sauce and tofu as you would normally do in the vegetarian version.



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