If you’re like me, you are always looking for new vegetarian meals that even the most carnivorous members of your family will love. My Vegan Mapo Tofu is a recipe that converts even those who say they don’t like tofu.
Veggies Are Your Friend
One of the biggest hurdles when trying to convert meat lovers into eating more veggies is the perception of bland flavorless rabbit food. In general, I follow a three prong approach when adding vegetables to meals. First is secretly adding more veg to a recipe so that no one notices it. Sneaky I know. Some examples might include a meatloaf with minced vegetables mixed in or a bolognese sauce with mushrooms replacing some of the meat. Second, I try to make my vegetable dishes explode with flavor to keep them exciting and never boring. Have you given my spicy Korean bean sprouts or funky green beans a try yet? Third, I serve meatless dishes more often. “Normalizing” veggies is the best way to get everyone in your house to accept and enjoy eating less meat.
This Vegan Mapo Tofu hits two of my objectives. It’s incredibly flavorful and it’s a hearty dish that definitely is not rabbit food. Furthermore, as the weather continues to cool down in most parts of the country, it’s the perfect meal to warm you up and keep you going. Served with my perfect rice, it makes a complete and hearty protein packed meal.
Mapo Tofu is a Szechuan specialty that typically includes ground pork, silken tofu, and a spicy well flavored sauce. Szechuan peppercorns add a characteristic heat and tongue tingling effect from the eponymous region which is famous for its hot and aggressively spiced food. Though you can use regular black peppercorns in a pinch, your Vegan Mapo Tofu will be missing the distinct flavor that only comes from Szechuan peppercorns. Finally, my unconventional vegan version uses a bunch of ingredients you don’t typically find in classic Mapo Tofu but the delicious result speaks for itself. Ready to give it a spin?
Let’s Get Cooking!
Like any recipe that comes together so quickly, it is helpful to have all of your ingredients gathered and prepped.
Wipe off and quarter the mushrooms and then chop the onion, ginger, garlic, eggplant, and tofu.
Mix Up the Sauce:
The sauce for this Vegan Mapo Tofu is whisked together from a few key pantry ingredients. Vegetarian stir fry sauce is a richly flavored ingredient that adds an umami punch. Lee Kum Kee makes a nice one. I prefer it to vegetarian oyster sauce, which is difficult to find in the Asian markets near me. Doubanjiang is a Szechuan staple, made from fermented beans and chili paste. It is readily available from several producers at a well stocked Chinese market, or you could find one online. Whisk those together with sugar and soy sauce and the sauce is ready to go!
Once you have everything prepped, it’s time to make a spiced oil. Steeping the oil with the Szechuan peppercorns and chili flakes will add massive flavor to the dish right from the start. Just 5 minutes steeping time creates a deeply flavored cooking oil. Take care not to burn the chilis as it will make your oil bitter.
Once the spices are strained out of the oil, you will sauté the aromatics (the onion, ginger, and garlic). Then add the veggies. I call for Chinese eggplant and mushrooms, but you could certainly throw in zucchini or some spinach. I find that it’s best to keep the vegetables complementary and not be tempted to use everything in the fridge bin.
When the eggplant is softened, the tofu gets added along with vegetable stock and the sauce. Traditionally, most Mapo tofu recipes suggest silken tofu, but I use medium firm tofu for this dish. With so many other textures in this recipe, a silken tofu would be too delicate and subtle. But like all things, you do you. If you prefer silken tofu, go for it. Only have firm tofu? Don’t worry, it will work too. Let it simmer together for a few minutes so the tofu soaks up all the savory goodness.
Thicken the Vegan Mapo Tofu Sauce
Ever wonder how the sauces at your favorite Asian restaurants are so velvety thick? One little trick is to add a slurry. A slurry is just a mixture of a starch (like cornstarch or potato starch) and water. When added to hot liquid, the slurry will quickly transform the liquid into a nice thick sauce. Then add the toasted sesame oil and garnishes, and your Vegan Mapo Tofu is done!
I know you will love this veganized Mapo Tofu. It’s fast, hearty, and has a luscious sauce. If you make it, we want to know! Drop a comment, tag us in your pics @funkyasiankitchen….show us the goods!
For the Tofu:
- ½ pound cremini mushrooms
- ½ pound chinese or japanese eggplant
- 1 container medium firm tofu
- 1 onion, medium dice
- 4 scallions, washed
- 1/2 cup cilantro, washed
- 3 tablespoons neutral oil
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 1 teaspoon szechuan peppercorns
- 2 cloves large garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon crushed dried chile flakes
- 1 cup vegetable stock
- 2 tablespoons water mixed with 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon roasted sesame oil
For the Sauce:
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon vegetarian stir-fry sauce
- 1 tablespoon spicy doubanjiang bean sauce
Prep The Ingredients:
- Drain the tofu and cut into ½” inch cubes. Set aside.
- Wash, trim the ends, and then cut the eggplant into ¾ inch pieces. Set aside. Wipe off the mushrooms to remove any grit and then cut in half or quarters for the really big ones. Put it aside as well.
- Cut the scallions into thin rounds and chop the cilantro. Put the cilantro and scallion into a bowl and set aside.
- Mix the soy sauce, sugar, vegetarian stir-fry sauce, and the doubanjiang bean sauce in a small bowl and set aside.
- Set a deep skillet over medium heat.
- Heat a large pan over medium heat and add the oil, szechuan peppercorns, and the chile flakes. Let the spices steep in the oil for 5 mins until the oil is fragrant and the spices dark. Remove the spices from the oil with a strainer and discard.
- Return the pan with the flavored oil to medium high heat and add the onion. Stir the onion to coat with oil and then cover the pan and cook for 1-2 minutes. Remove the cover and continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes until the onion is translucent.
- Add the ginger and garlic and continue to cook for 1 minute.
- Stir in the eggplant and mushrooms and cook for 3-4 mins until the eggplant is almost soft. Add the tofu, vegetable stock, and the sauce. Bring the mixture to a simmer and then lower the heat to medium and continue cooking for another 3-4 mins. until the eggplant is soft.
- Mix the cornstarch slurry and then pour it over the mixture in the pot and stir gently. Cook until the sauce has nicely thickened, 1-2 minutes. Add the sesame oil and the scallion/cilantro mix. Stir gently and serve immediately.
As the dish sits, the tofu will start to give off liquid. If you have any leftovers, it’s a good idea to check for seasoning and add more slurry when re-heating.
Keywords: vegan, mapo tofu