Mapo Tofu

Mapo Tofu
Mapo Tofu

Our new is favourite cookbook is “Hong Kong Food City” by Tony Tan. We purchased it on a whim from a bookstore while on holiday in the beautiful little town of Kiama, about 2 hours south of Sydney. If there’s anything better than finding a gem of a book while on holiday, it’s making delicious food that demands to be made again and again. So far we’ve made 4 dishes from this book and would make any of them again. But first there are many more recipes we want to try.

Today we’re bringing you the best dish from the book so far, Mapo Tofu. This has long been one of our favourite dishes to order when eating out, so being able to create a beautiful version at home is exciting and much simpler than we had thought. We love the silkiness of the tofu, the zing of the Sichuan pepper, and the depth of flavour in the sauce. It’s spicy, but not so hot that you you’ll be crying.

The traditional Mapo Tofu recipe uses beef mince, but if you want to make the dish vegetarian, you can substitute some finely diced mushrooms, and replace the chicken stock with vegetable stock. Both versions work really well.

A note on a few ingredients you may be unfamiliar with: Doubanjiang or Chilli bean paste from Sichuan can be hard to find, but the Lee Kum Kee brand works fine and is available in supermarkets. Fermented black beans can be found at Asian grocers. Sichuan preserved vegetable is made from the stems of mustard greens. We found it labelled as “preserved mustard greens” in our local supermarket.

This is a really simple dish to make, but we would recommend that you spend some time measuring out all your ingredients at the start. Once your wok is hot you’ll be adding all the ingredients very quickly and you don’t want to be measuring everything out at this point.

Serves 2 people as a main dish with some fluffy jasmine rice, or 4 people with the addition of another dish such as some simple stir fried green vegetables with oyster sauce.

Ingredients:

  • 50g minced beef (or finely diced mushrooms)
  • 500g soft bean curd (or tofu), cut into 3cm cubes
  • 3 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp Chilli bean paste(Doubanjiang)
  • 2 tsp fermented black beans
  • 2 tsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp chilli oil
  • 250ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 baby leek, finely sliced
  • 1 tsp roasted ground Sichuan pepper
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes (optional)
  • 30g Sichuan preserved vegetable, rinsed and finely chopped
  • 1 tsp potato or corn flour, mixed with 2 Tbsp water
  • Spring onions, finely sliced, to serve

Marinade:

  • ½ tsp light soy sauce
  • ½ tsp Shaoxing rice wine
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp sugar
  1. Place the beef or mushrooms in a bowl and add the marinade ingredients. Mix well and set aside.
  2. Bring a saucepan of water to a simmer. Gently place the bean curd in the pan and cook until warmed through. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a plate lined with paper towels.
  3. Heat a wok over high heat, add the oil and then the beef or mushrooms. Stir fry for 20 seconds, then add the garlic.
  4. Reduce the heat to medium and add the chilli bean paste, fermented black beans, soy sauce, sugar and chilli oil. Stir fry for another 30 seconds.
  5. Pour in the stock, add the bean curd and stir gently so as not to break the bean curd cubes. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 2 minutes.
  6. Add the leek, Sichuan pepper, chilli flakes (if using), Sichuan preserved vegetable and potato flour mixture. Stir and simmer until the sauce thickens.
  7. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with spring onions. Serve with steamed rice.

Apple and olive oil cake with maple icing

Apple and olive oil cake with maple icing
Apple and olive oil cake with maple icing

Recently we made a birthday cake for our dear friend Alex, who loves anything with apples and sultanas. A little flick through one of our favourite cookbooks, Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh, provided us with this wonderful recipe. It nailed the brief (Alex loved it) but to be honest the real star of this cake is that maple icing. It’s dangerously good. Don’t make extra or you will end up smothering it on everything from crumpets to cupcakes. Best of all, it’s a quite simple cake to make. If you’re not a regular baker, this is a good recipe to try something new!

Apple and Olive Oil Cake

  • 100g sultanas
  • 275ml water
  • 350g plain flour
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 800g Granny Smith apples
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 150ml olive oil
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 egg whites
  • scraped seeds of ½ vanilla pod
  • finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Maple Icing

  • 100g unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing
  • 100g soft light brown sugar
  • 85g maple syrup
  • 220g cream cheese
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C
  2. Grease a 23cm round cake tin and line the base and sides with baking paper, ensuring the paper rises a few centimeters above the sides of the tin.
  3. Add the sultanas and 200ml of water to a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and reduce the heat to low. Set aside once all the water has been absorbed.
  4. Sift the flour, cinnamon, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt together into a large bowl.
  5. Peel and core the apples, then dice the fruit into 2-3cm chunks and set aside in a separate bowl.
  6. Place the sugar, olive oil, whole eggs, vanilla seeds and lemon zest in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer on a medium speed for 6-7 minutes, or until the mixture is pale and thick and has doubled in size.
  7. Use a spatula to fold in the diced apple, sultanas and the remaining 75ml of water. Add the sifted dry ingredients and fold in as well.
  8. Place the egg whites in a clean bowl and whisk until soft peaks form. Gently but thoroughly fold the egg whites through the cake mix, then scrape the batter into the tin. Level the top of the mixture with a spatula and bake for 60 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Set aside to cool in the tin.
  9. For the icing, place the butter, sugar and maple syrup in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until pale and airy. Add the cream cheese a little at a time and continue to beat until smooth and thick.
  10. When the cake has completely cooled, use a large serrated knife to slice in half horizontally. Spread half the icing over the bottom layer of the cake and place the other layer on top. Spread the remaining icing over the top of the cake and using a spoon or palette knife, lightly flick the icing to create little icing spikes (or you could just leave it flat and smooth if you prefer). Leave the sides of the cake bare so the icing in the center can be seen.