Tofu is good? Why yes, yes it is!
Last night we made Mapo Tofu. If you had told me ten years ago that I'd be craving this dish, I'd tell you that you were crazy. But that isn't the only thing I've discovered that I like. Biscuit Boy and I have introduced each other to foods we'd never tried before. I introduced him to foods from my family's NY roots, bagles, egg on roll, bialy's...... My family lived in NY until I was a teenager when we moved to TN, so I had years of eating southern foods before I met Biscuit Boy who is a true Southerner. Born and raise in TN. Although there wasn't much in the Southern Food realm that he could introduce me to, he did make me sushi on our third date. When he told me that 's what he was making, the first thought ran through my head was, "What ever you do, don't gag." I had never tried sushi before, nor had the desire to. Raw fish? Ick! Well......wasn't I surprised when I tentatively bit into the tuna and rice! I didn't gag, in fact I think I made some sort of nummy sound. Needless to say, we ate all the sushi he prepared. A short time after that date, we took my nephew out with us for sushi. He was 11 or 12 at the time and has always been willing to try anything you put in front of him. We gave him a piece of Eel sushi which quickly disappeared. He earned the name Eel Boy night. It's still his favorite kind of sushi.
Anyway, I digress. Back to the Mapo Tofu. We used our ever-faithful "Land of Plenty" cookbook for this dish. And like the pan-fried dumplings, it took a few tried before we perfected it. Each time we used a different chili bean paste. According to the cookbook's author, chili bean paste made with fava beans is what she prefers. We went to a local Chinese market and studied the jars of bean paste. None listed fava beans so we randomly chose one that had soybeans listed as the first ingredient. We used it in the first Mapo tofu we made and while it was good, we still wondered what it would taste like if we found a paste made with favas.
On a second visit to the market, we again could not find the elusive fava beans listed on any of the labels. Instead we chose a bean paste that listed chilis as the first ingredient. Why I never thought about the heat factor, is beyond me. I should have tasted that stuff before I used it. If I had, I would have known not to add any more chilis into the mapo tofu. To say the final product was hot would be an understatement. It was blistering! I don't think my mouth could have burned more if I licked a lava flow. I couldn't even finish my bowl.
So it was back to the market. Did I mention that there is a (Manchurian) chinese restaurant in the same shopping center as the market? It was always a good excuse to go eat there whenever we go to that market. More on that in a future entry..... On our third trip to the market, we noticed several jars of bean paste listed Broad beans as the first ingredient. We thought we'd give it a try. And had I done my homework beforehand, I would have realized that fava beans and broad beans are the same thing. Bingo! We had the chili bean paste we were seeking.
This bean paste has a nice cumulative heat that doesn't smack you in the face like the last one did. And when added to the dish, along with the Szechuan peppercorns, produced a great bowl of mapo tofu. Numbing, hot (but not too hot) and full of flavor. We fought over who got to take the leftovers for lunch the next day (I won.)