Mapo tofu is wife Jan’s favorite dish, so this is a common meal in our house. The tradition way of making it is with just tofu and sauce with just a bit of pork, green onion, and of course Sichuan pepper. I usually make a stir fried bok choy dish as a vegetable side, but over time I have gotten lazy and combined the dishes into one—adding the bok choy directly into the mapo tofu. Today, Jan asked me to buy some mandarin oranges and I thought, “Why not add them to the dish?”
Jan is on the Noom program and there is always added sugar in most Chinese bottled sauces, so there is no way to remove it. Jan entered this dish into the Noom app by the individual ingredients—since there is nothing like it in their list. However, this is almost a perfectly balanced Noom recipe—mostly “green food” (bok choy, green onion, Mandarins, tofu, and yellow onion), some “yellow food” (the turkey), and just a bit of “red food” (the sauce).
Jan prefers mapo tofu the traditional way that Mao Zedong liked it, made with “stinky tofu.” Proper Sichuan mapo tofu actually takes days to make properly, because first you need to let the tofu go “bad.” Fortunately, she also likes it with made with fresh tofu, which is what I will be doing today.
Mapo Tofu is a signature Sichuan recipe. The key elements of the dish, besides tofu, are the spicy bean sauce and the Sichuan Pepper. If you go to a Cantonese or Mandarin Chinese restaurant you may find “Mapo Tofu” on the menu, but it will usually be served without the Sichuan pepper. The “honest” restaurants will call this dish “Tofu in Spicy Brown Sauce.” If it doesn’t have the Sichuan pepper, it is not really “Mapo.” In Chengdu, we have ordered this dish and gotten it literally black from all of the Sichuan pepper on top.
After Dinner Note: Sichuan pepper is actual a citrus fruit and the Mandarin oranges really boosted its citrus notes.
Karl’s Mandarin Mapo Tofu
4 oz. turkey thigh, ground
1 tsp. Spicy Bean Sauce (Mapo sauce)
Note: The Mapo tofu sauce can sometimes be unavailable, but it is just a combination of equal amounts of Chili Bean Paste (toban djan) and Sweet Bean Sauce (tian mian jiang), which are almost always available.
1 tsp. soy sauce
½ tsp. dark soy sauce
½ tsp. fresh ginger, grated
¼ tsp. sesame oil
Pinch Sichuan pepper, ground
1 lb. tofu
Mapo dofu sauce
½ inch ginger root, slivered
2 Tbs. soy sauce
2 tsp. dark soy sauce
2 Tbs. Spicy Bean Sauce (Mapo sauce)
1 Tbs. Shaoxing (rice wine)
1 Tbs. water
2 Tbs. peanut oil, separate uses
½ yellow onion
2 Shanghai bok choy
4 green onions
2 Mandarin oranges, peeled and segmented
5-10 cloves garlic
½-1 Tbs. Sichuan pepper, ground fine, separate uses
Note: If you wish to make proper “stinky“ tofu you have to plan ahead. Use an extra firm block of tofu. Leave the tofu uncovered in your refrigerator for 3 to 5 days. The tofu will develop a strong sour smell and may pick up some pink mold. Rinse the mold off before using.
1. Put the ground turkey and all of the marinade ingredients in a small bowl and blend them well.
Tip: Do not over-mix the meat you are not trying to make turkey sausage.
Note: I have always made this dish with ground pork. Jan pushed me to replace this Noom “red food“ with turkey whick is a “yellow food.“ As far as I can tell, it made no significant difference to the overall flavor.
2. Let the meat marinate for at least 15 minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Tip: Like more Asian cooking it is a good idea to prepare all of your ingredients in advance before you start cooking.
3. Several hours before dinner, drain and place the tofu block on a large plate.
Tip: Place a smaller inverted plate on top of the tofu. Place a weight on the top to press the liquid out of the tofu. Pour off any liquid that has seeped out of the tofu.
4. Sliver the ginger root by cutting it in thin disks, stack the slices, and cut them thinly once more.
5. Put the ginger and the rest of the mapo tofu sauce ingredients in a small measuring cup.
6. Cut the tofu into ¾-1 inch cubes and set aside.
Note: I originally diced my tofu and then tried to fry the cubes—they tended to stick to the pan and break apart. I have found that an easier way is to cut the block of tofu into 3-4 slabs. You can then fry the slabs until they are spotty brown on both sides. After they have cooled cut the tofu into a large dice.
7. Dice the yellow onion and set it aside.
8. Separate the bok choy into stalks and cut the leafy parts from the pale green stems.
Note: You want about 1½ -2 cups of bok choy—this is one large or 2 small Shanghai bok choy.
9. Cut the stems into one inch pieces and set them aside.
10. Stack and slice the leafy parts into ½ inch wide strips.
Tip: Keep the leafy parts separate from the stems.
11. Peel and break the Mandarins into segments and set them aside.
Tip: You may put the oranges into the same prep bowl as the bok choy stems.
12. Cut the white part of the green onions into 2 inch pieces and set them aside.
13. Chop the green parts of the onions finely and set them aside.
Note: These will be added to the dish at the last moment as a garnish.
14. Slice or mince the garlic and set it aside.
15. In a large sauté pan over a medium high heat, add 1 tablespoon of oil and brown the tofu lightly.
Tip: You are not trying to brown the cubes completely. You just want to get a slight browning on two or three sides. (See the note in Step X for an easier way of frying the tofu.)
16. Remove the tofu from the pan.
Tip: You may return it to the original plate you used to press the liquid out.
17. Add the rest of the canola oil to the pan and brown the turkey.
Tip: Form the meat into a large patty and fry it on both sides. Remove it to a plate to cool. When it is cool enough to handle mince the patty finely. This dish is not supposed to have big chunks of meat floating around in it—it is just there for the flavor.
18. Remove the meat from the pan and, without cleaning the pan, add yellow onion and the white parts of the green onion.
Tip: Use the moisture released by the onions to deglaze the pan. If necessary, add a splash of water.
19. Stir fry the onions for 4-5 minutes, until translucent.
20. Add the bok choy stems and Mandarin segments and continue stir frying for another 4-5 minutes.
21. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pan and sauté the garlic in the hole in the center.
22. Return the turkey and tofu to the pan and add the leafy parts of the bok choy.
23. Stir in the mapo dofu sauce and cook for two to three minutes tossing to coat the tofu.
24. Stir in ¾ of the Sichuan pepper and cook for another minute to finish wilting the bok choy greens.
25. Remove the mapo dofu to a serving bowl, and sprinkle the rest of the Sichuan pepper over the dish.
26. Garnish the dish with the remaining green onions and serve with steamed rice on the side.