A spin on tradition, my A Little Bit Spicy Vegan Mapo Tofu recipe uses minced and sliced mixed mushrooms and silky eggplant instead of pork mince to create a beautifully spicy and full-bodied Sichuan dish. Ready in twenty minutes, this is a wonderfully quick go-to recipe.
I am a creature of habit so when our local Yum Cha posted a notice on their door that they were closing last month, I found myself a little discombobulated. Change can do that to me. Where would we eat? Would the Elf eat at another restaurant, one she hadn’t visited her whole life? Would the owner stay open if we promised to eat more?
The restaurant’s closure was the end of an era for us. The Husband and I began frequenting the Dragon Boat when we first moved to the Hills seven years ago and their gorgeous dumplings and spicy bowls curbed many a craving during my pregnancy. Venturing out as new parents, our familiar haunt welcomed us with the staff oohing and ahhing over the tiny pink person fast asleep in her capsule amongst the din of rattling trolleys and noisy diners. It was lovely and familiar and an important part of our family history. And now it’s gone. Increasing rents and gentrification pushing it out like so many small businesses before it to make way for less substantial but far hipper enterprises. I don’t buy my coffee so I don’t much care if it’s roasted on-site, but I appreciate I am a minority.
But some bear change better than others. On the day we paid our final bill at the Dragon Boat we asked the owner what his plans were. As he rung up our account and pondered the question I noticed the shadows under his eyes and in that moment felt the weight he had shouldered to keep his restaurant afloat. Bowing his head and returning our change, he simply said, “I am going to cook for my family” and he smiled. Not a smile to please his customers but because, despite the restaurant’s closure, he had found something beautiful to hold on to. And in that, the weight was lifted from his shoulders. While we will miss our place, I am happy the change helped our friend find his way home. I guess that’s what change does; points us in the right direction even if it comes at a cost. I wish him and his family well and thank him for so many lovely memories.
So if I can’t eat at the Dragon Boat I might as well bring the Dragon Boat home. This vegan spicy mapo tofu is my spin on the Sichuan classic substituting traditional pork with earthy mixed mushrooms and gorgeous silky eggplant. Combined with Korean chilli paste, garlic, ginger and Sichuan peppercorns, this simple dish is full of overlapping flavours that work together to create the perfect spicy bite. I make this wonderful bowl for the husband and I as the Elf is categorically anti-spice but if you have kids with a better threshold than mine, the measures of chilli can be adjusted to suit younger palates. My original recipe had two tablespoons of chilli paste which, had my eyes watering a storm so I simply paired it back to one and a half. Additionally, the Sichuan peppercorns are sprinkled over the finished dish so they can be moderated too.
A Little Bit Spicy Vegan Mapo Tofu will always taste a little of our past and it is a lovely place to visit. Like many recipes it is inspired by an aroma, a flavour or a memory that draws me to the kitchen to re-create or create anew. While I am not ready to bear-hug change, I admit it has an appeal. While I miss our weekend haunt, I do love home-cooked dinners on a Sunday afternoon. There are no rattling trolleys but the three of us, four if you count the Dane, make enough noise to fill the quiet.
A Little Bit Spicy Vegan Mapo Tofu
- 1 tablespoon Sichuan pepper corns
- 300 grams silken tofu
- 2 - 3 tablespoons sunflower oil
- 300 grams mixed mushrooms I used 200 grams shiitake and 100 grams Swiss brown
- 1 medium eggplant sliced in to large cubes
- 3 spring onions cut in to 2cm batons, the green parts finely sliced
- 2 cloves garlic finely chopped
- ½ inch thumb of ginger grated
- 1 tbs shaoxing wine or brandy
- 1.5 tablespoons Korean chilli paste
- 375 ml vegan chicken-style stock or vegetable stock
- 1 tablespoon soy or tamari
- 1 tablespoon raw sugar or maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon potato starch or corn flour
- To prepare the peppercorns, dry fry them over a low heat for 1–2 minutes until light brown and aromatic. Crush lightly in a mortar and pestle.
- Cut the tofu into large cubes and set aside to drain on an absorbent towel.
- Take 100 grams of mushrooms and pulse them in a food processor to a rough "mince." Slice the remaining mushrooms in half.
- Place a wok over medium to high heat. Add the oil to heat.
- Add the mushrooms and eggplant and stir fry for 1-2 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 30 seconds.
- Add the the rice wine and the chilli bean paste and cook for 1 minute until the mixture is aromatic.
- Add the stock, bring to the boil and season with soy sauce and sugar. Cook for a minute before reducing the heat to a simmer.
- Gently add the tofu and stir carefully trying not to break up the tofu too much. Simmer for 6-7 minutes until the sauce has reduced slightly and the eggplant is soft.
- Combine the potato starch with 1 tablespoon of water and mix into the sauce. Cook for a further 2 minutes until thickened.
- Add the spring onion batons and stir. Remove from heat.
- Serve sprinkled with Sichuan pepper, sliced green spring onions and steamed rice.