For a very long time, there was one dish from Anime that I coveted above all else. A dish that looked so divinely delicious, so incredibly appealing, how could I possibly not want a taste? Angel Beats is the show that originally got me into Mapo Tofu; the brilliant, glowing red sauce coating the soft white tofu was a thing of beauty, and I couldn’t wait to give it a try.
Unfortunately, fate had different ideas, and for 4 years after first watching Angel Beats, I was unable to find any restaurant serving the dish. Fortunately, the dish has now made its way to the States, but most restaurants really dial down the spice of the Mapo to appeal to the average American’s wimpy taste buds.
Mapo Tofu is originally attributed to an elderly cook known as Pock-marked Ma. The “Ma” in Mapo stands for Ma-zi, which means pockmarked, while the “Po” is for popo, which means old lady, or grandma. The story is, there was an old lady with a pockmarked face that ran a tofu stand. Her customers asked for some dishes with more flavor and meat, so she created Mapo Tofu, a tofu dish that was very spicy, and contains minced beef in the sauce.
After reading up on the dish as much as I could, I felt I was ready to try and create an Anime-accurate Mapo Tofu dish. I try to keep my dishes cheap when I make them, and this is a dish you should easily be able to make for around $10 (prices may vary depending where you live.) It’s delicious, it’s healthy, and it doesn’t cost too much at all to make! So, let’s roll up our sleeves and get cooking, shall we?
Spicy Mapo Tofu:
(Recipe is for 4 servings)
- One large package of Silken or Medium Tofu (I was able to score a block of good-quality tofu for $1.50)
- 250g finely minced beef (Not sure on the price here, I just used some spare that I had in my freezer.)**
- Sesame Oil (Can be substituted with Olive oil or Vegetable oil, but the Sesame Oil has a nicer flavor.)
- 3 Tablespoons Doubanjiang (is recommended, anyways. I couldn’t find any, so I used Korean Gochujiang instead. Got a tub of it for $5 and only used about 1/8 of it.)
- 1 Tablespoon fermented black beans OR Mapo paste (Got a jar for $4, used 1/4 of the jar)
- 2 tablespoons ground red pepper OR 1/4 cup dried red peppercorns (This won’t change the flavor, just the texture of the sauce.)
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 3 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
- 8 chopped Green Onions or Scallions (they sell for about $.10 each)
- 1 ginger root *optional* grated finely
- 2 Tablespoons cornstarch
- With all our ingredients gathered, let’s get to cooking! First off, make sure your beef is thawed and finely minced. Toss it in a pan with some salt and a splash of Sesame oil, cook until nicely brown, and set aside (keep the pan with the leftover oil/juice).
- Cut tofu into 3/4 inch cubes. bring a pot of salted water to boil, and cook the tofu for 2-5 minutes (softer tofu needs to stay in for longer.) Strain it out gently, so as not to damage the tofu. This process will add some extra flavor to the tofu, as well as making it a bit stronger, and allow it to soak up the flavor of the sauce better.
- Add your Doubanjiang/Gochujiang to the pan with the leftover oil. (Feel free to add another splash of Sesame Oil to the pan.) when it softens, stir in garlic, most of the green onion, grated ginger, and Mapo Paste. Mix together thoroughly on medium heat.
- Setting your stove to low heat, stir in soy sauce and pepper powder. If using whole peppercorns, you may want to lightly fry them in a pan before tossing them into a food processor, or crushing them with a spoon or other blunt instrument. Also add a generous amount of honey, which will affect the sweetness of the sauce and take an edge off the heat. I used about 1/4 cup honey, but you can adjust this to your tastes.
- When your sauce has been well-mixed, keep on low heat and add in the minced Beef and Tofu Cubes. Gently stir it all together, making sure the sauce completely covers all the tofu, and turns it a beautiful orange-red color.
- Mix cornstarch with about 1/2 cup of water, and stir until well-mixed. Dump this starch mixture into the pan, and mix everything well. This will lend the sauce a thick, gooey consistency and make it stick to everything better. Continue to simmer until the sauce is no longer cloudy.
Congratulations, your Mapo Tofu is now finished! You can eat it as-is, or over rice. I added some Steamed Broccoli to my meal, which adds a very fresh and clean taste to the spicy Tofu dish, and really helps balance out the meal. If you saved any of the chopped green onion, feel free to sprinkle it over the top of your tofu to get that crisp taste every now and again.
**For Vegetarians, feel free to simply remove the Minced Beef from the recipe altogether, OR, replace it with an equivalent amount of minced Mushrooms. The mushrooms will add about the same consistency and flavor as the meat, while still meeting your vegetarian criteria! I made a small portion of Vegetarian tofu on the side just to try, and am happy to report that mushrooms are just as delicious!
Anyways, I hope you guys enjoyed this recipe! Please let me know if you decide to try and make it for yourself, how it turned out in the end, and if there are any suggestions for dishes from Anime you’d like to see me cook next!