Our vegan Mapo Tofu is an amazingly fragrant flavorful dish that has become our comfort food. While the ingredients in Mapo Tofu are relatively simple, the flavors are complex and bold. The cornerstones of this dish (besides the tofu of course) are chili bean paste (douban jiang - the soul of Sichuan cuisine), fermented black beans (douchi), and Sichuan peppercorns (huajiao). In Sichuan province and in many U.S. restaurants, this dish is made with ground beef or pork, but we love our vegan version and do not think this dish misses a beat by leaving the meat out. In fact, we think it taste more vibrant!
Mapo tofu dates to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). This dish is said to have been created by a woman in Chengdu, China named Ms. Chen. Interestingly, Ms. Chen was said to have a pockmarked face, which explains the name Mapo, since “ma” stands for pockmarks and “po” stands for grandma or older woman.
Mapo Tofu is perfect as a main dish and pairs well with many sautéed vegetables such as Chinese water spinach. The sauce melds perfectly with rice, creating a delectable combination.
Now let’s get to the good stuff!!!
Here is everything you need to make this dish amazing dish!
- Firm tofu
- Chili bean paste
- Fermented black beans
- Ground red chili peppers – Use ground dried red chili peppers - Sichuan varieties if possible. Sichuan red chili peppers have more depth of flavor and provide medium heat as opposed to cayenne pepper (don’t substitute cayenne pepper). You can also use Korean chili peppers. These can be found at your local Chinese or Korean market, on Amazon, and online at the Mala Market. These are not to be confused with Sichuan peppercorns (hua jiao) below.
- Ground Sichuan pepper (hua jiao) - it is a spice (a berry to be exact) commonly used in Sichuan cuisine. It grows on spiky shrubs which can shred the hands of those who pick it. It's grown in other regions as well, but the varieties that come out of Sichuan are renowned. For novices, one of the first things you will notice when eating hua jiao is a pleasant tingling numbing effect. This is due to a molecule called sanshool. Like most of the dry ingredients, these can be purchased on Amazon, or for the best quality, order from the Mala Market.
- Green onions
- Corn starch (for thickening the sauce)
See recipe card for quantities.
Cut the tofu into approximately ¾ inch (2 cm) cubes and place on a plate until ready to add into your wok or pan.
Add 3 tablespoons of cooking oil to a hot wok and swirl the oil around the edges of the wok. Once the oil on the sides of the wok begins to smoke, add in the chili bean paste and fermented black beans. Stir-fry with a wok spatula until the paste infuses in the oil (about 30 seconds).
Next, add the ground chili powder and stir-fry un fragrant (approximately 30 seconds).
Add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry approximately one minute. You want their flavors to infuse into the cooking oil.
Add the tofu along with the water to the wok. Gently nudge the tofu around the wok ensuring that it heats evenly. Simmer about 2-3 minutes to let the tofu to absorb the wonderful flavors you just created.
Add the sliced green onions to the wok and let them simmer about 1-2 minutes.
Turn the heat to medium-low and add the corn starch and water mixture, pour slowly into the wok while stirring gently. The sauce should start to thicken as you stir - usually within 30 seconds to one minute.
All that is left to do is plate the dish and top with the ground Sichuan Pepper. We love to enjoy mapo tofu with sautéed Chinese greens and black rice. It can go with almost any meal though! Please leave us a comments letting us know what sides you tried with it.
Hint: If you have another dish to make, place the Mapo Tofu in an oven safe plate and place in the oven (175°F / 80°C) to keep warm until your other dishes are done.
- Ground chilis - if you have a low tolerance for spicy food, feel free to cut down on the amount of ground chilis used, or substitute 1 teaspoon of paprika for 1 teaspoon of ground chilis. If you do this, make sure not to used smoked paprika as this will really throw the flavor off (we accidentally made this mistake!).
- Also, ensure you use ground Chinese chilis instead of cayenne pepper powder. Chinese chilis such as "er jing tiao" are gown in Sichuan and are very fragrant, flavorful, and mildly spicy. You can order them from the Mala Market or find them at your local asian grocery store.
We always use our wok for this dish, but this dish can easy be made in a stainless steel or non-stick skillet. A wok is perfect for cooking dishes that require constant stir-frying at high heat, but Mapo Tofu only requires that the tofu simmer in the sauce after the aromatics are sautéed in the cooking oil.
Store your leftovers (we never have leftovers because Mapo Tofu is one of our favorite dishes!) in an airtight container for no more than 2-3 days. You can review the CDC's website for the latest food safety tips.
This dish does not do well to in the freezer.
Vegetarian/Vegan Mapo Tofu 麻婆豆腐
- 1 pounds Tofu Firm or extra firm preferred
- 4 tablespoons olive or rapeseed (canola) oil
- 3 tablespoons chili bean paste
- 1.5 tablespoons fermented black beans
- 2 teaspoons ground chilis Sichuan varieties if possible
- 2 cloves roughly or finely chopped garlic
- 3 slices ginger (optional)
- ¾ cup water or vegetable stock
- 1 tablespoon corn starch (mixed with 3 tablespoons of cold water)
- 1 teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper adjust to taste
- 1 scallion / green onion
- Cut the tofu into approximately ¾ inch (2 cm) cubes and place on a plate until ready to add into your wok or pan.1 pounds Tofu
- Add the cooking oil to a hot wok and swirl the oil around the edges of the wok. Once the oil on the sides of the wok begins to smoke, add in the chili bean paste and fermented black beans. Stir-fry with a wok spatula until the paste infuses in the oil (about 30 seconds).4 tablespoons olive or rapeseed (canola) oil, 3 tablespoons chili bean paste, 1.5 tablespoons fermented black beans
- Add the ground chili powder to the wok and stir-fry until fragrant (approximately 30 seconds).2 teaspoons ground chilis
- Next, add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry approximately one minute. You want their flavors to infuse into the cooking oil.2 cloves roughly or finely chopped garlic, 3 slices ginger
- Add the tofu along with the water to the wok. Gently nudge the tofu around the wok ensuring that it heats evenly. Simmer about 2-3 minutes to let the tofu absorb the wonderful flavors you just created.1 pounds Tofu, ¾ cup water or vegetable stock
- Add the sliced green onions to the wok and let them simmer about 1-2 minutes.1 scallion / green onion
- Turn the heat to medium-low and add the corn starch and water mixture, pour slowly into the wok while stirring gently. The sauce should start to thicken as you stir - usually within 30 seconds to one minute.1 tablespoon corn starch
- After the sauce has thickened, transfer the Mapo tofu to a plate and top the dish with your ground Sichuan Pepper (this is where the magic happens). Enjoy!!!1 teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper
malaeats.com is created for informational purposes only. Although we do our best to provide nutritional information to our readers as a general guideline, we are not certified nutritionists and the nutritional values provided should be considered estimates. Numerous factors such as variations in fresh ingredients, brands purchased, etc. will alter the nutritional values in any recipe. Different online calculators also provide different results depending on their sources. To obtain accurate nutritional information for a recipe, please use your preferred nutrition calculator to determine nutritional information with the actual ingredients and quantities you used.
We sometimes take for a granted that we have years (or decades) of cooking experience, that the average visitor may not. Add to, or remove from, the list below with health and safety tips.
- Cook to a minimum temperature of 165 °F (74 °C)
- Do not use the same utensils on cooked food, that previously touched raw meat
- Don't leave food sitting out at room temperature for extended periods (less than 2 hours is recommended by the CDC)
- Never leave cooking food unattended
- Always have good ventilation when using a gas stove
See more guidelines at the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention website.
I made this dish the other night and paired it with rice, sautéd cabbage, and grill fish. The mapo tofu sauce was awesome on the fish!
Mala eats Family
We have not tried it on top of fish before, but thanks for the tip!
I decided to make this with my husband and it was delicious! The steps in the recipe are easy to follow. This dish was very flavorful! Will definitely make it again.
Mala Eats Family
Hi Charlotte, We are so glad you enjoyed the mapo tofu!