Updated on July 22, 2021 by Julia
What is mapo tofu?
Although Shanghai cuisine sits close to my heart, Sichuan cuisine, the region known for its tongue-numbing (mala) dishes, will always be my first choice. Mapo tofu ((麻婆豆腐) is a tofu-based dish that is set in a spicy sauce (made up of chili sauce and chili oil). The dish has become increasingly popular in the West, and the dish can be easily made in 20 minutes. This recipe will teach you how to make vegetarian mapo tofu.
A traditional mapo tofu dish is made with Sichuan peppercorns which creates a numbing sensation. I have terrible memories of biting into these peppercorns as a child and wondering why my tongue was vibrating. I tend to leave peppercorns out and rely more on chilies and chili sauce (such as Lao Gan Ma) for a kick. We’ll use both chili bean sauce and chili oil to add this depth of flavor, and fermented black beans for salti-ness.
Vegetarian Mapo Tofu Ingredients
- Silken tofu (you can also use soft tofu if that’s what you have on hand)
- Chili bean sauce (辣豆瓣酱）- adds a slight spice and salty flavor
- Chili oil (辣油）- we always use the brand Lao Gan Ma (老干妈) which, nowadays, you can find at most grocery stores in the international section
- Fermented black bean (豆豉) – used as a seasoning and adds saltiness with a slight sweetness
- Shiitake mushrooms – sub for the ground beef that is usually used in this dish
- Garlic, scallions, Thai bird chilies, and sugar for flavoring
Mapo Tofu Recipe Instructions
- Prep your aromatics (garlic, scallions, Thai bird chilies) and dice the shittake mushroom
- To prep the fermented black beans, rinse them under water
- Heat oil in a skillet, and stir-fry garlic and then the Thai bird chilies, let the garlic brown a bit
- Add chili bean sauce and chili oil and stir until the oils begin to release their fragrance. This should be about 1-2 minutes. Then add in your fermented black beans.
- Add diced shittake mushrooms and stir-fry until the mushrooms are caramelized.
- Add 1/2 cup water and then your cornstarch slurry (1 part cornstarch, 2 parts water) and let it cook down for just a couple of seconds
- Finally, add your cubed tofu. Be gently while folding it into the sauce. Let it simmer for a couple minutes.
- To finish off, add sugar and a handful of chopped scallions.
- You’re done and ready to serve this with a bowl of steaming rice!
How to adjust spiciness of mapo tofu?
As a traditionally Sichuan dish, mapo tofu should be spicy and that’s why many enjoy it. In my recipe, I have already omitted the Sichuan peppercorns.
However, if you feel like it is still too spicy you can:
- Halve the amount of chili oil
- Omit the Thai bird chilies
I would recommend testing these flavors to see what works for you most! The best part is having the tofu swimming in its spicy sauces.
Looking for more easy Chinese recipes?
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 3 cloves garlic (minced)
- 2 Thai bird chilies (finely chopped)
- 1 tbsp chilli bean sauce
- 1 tbsp chilli sauce
- 1 tbsp fermented black beans (rinsed)
- 4 shiitake mushrooms (diced)
- ½ cup water
- 1 tbsp cornstarch (mixed with 2 tbsp water)
- 16 oz silken tofu (sliced into 1 in cubes)
- ½ tsp sugar
- 2 stalks scallions
- Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a hot skillet. Stir-fry garlic for 1 minute, then add Thai chilli peppers and stir-fry for another minute.
- Add 1 tbsp of chilli bean sauce and 1 tbsp of chilli oil, stir-fry for 1 minute. Lastly, add your rinsed fermented black beans and stir-fry for 1 more minute.
- Add mushrooms and let them cook down until soft, about another 3 minutes.
- Add water and then your cornstarch slurry. The sauce will start to thicken up in a couple seconds.
- Add tofu cubes and stir carefully so tofu is evenly coated. You don't want to break up the tofu. Let the tofu simmer for 2 minutes.
- Add your sugar and chopped green scallions. Give it one final stir and serve over rice.