Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Ma Po tofu

In my ongoing search for vegetarian dishes, I cooked this from Fuchsia Dunlop's brilliant book, Every Grain of Rice. Tofu itself is quite bland, so enjoying it is all about using it is a vehicle for other flavours, and appreciating the texture of the tofu itself. As far as I can tell, the three different 'grades' of tofu - silken, plain and firm - roughly correspond to use in soups, braised dishes and stir fries (although with a bit of overlap at the edge of each category).

500g plain tofu
4 tbsps of cooking oil
2 tbsps of chilli bean paste
1 tbsp of fermented black beans, rinsed and drained
1 tbsp of minced ginger
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
100 ml of vegetable stock
black pepper
2 tsps of potato flour, mixed with 2 tbsps of cold water
1/2 tsp of ground roasted Sichuan pepper
the green parts of 4 spring onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

  1. Cut the tofu into 2 cm cubes, cover in very hot, slightly salted water, and leave to steep. Prepare the other ingredients. (When I'm cooking Chinese food, I tend to arrange all my dry ingredients on a plate, in their order of use.)  Remove the tofu from the water with a slotted spoon, and put it on a plate.
  2. Heat your wok until it is nice and hot, add the oil, reduce heat to minimum, and add the chilli bean paste. Stir fry for about 30 seconds, add the black beans, and stir fry for a few seconds more. Add the ginger and garlic, stir for a few seconds more.
  3. Add the tofu, stir gently to coat with the sauce, and add the stock and a few grinds of black pepper.
  4. Bring to a boil, simmer for a few minutes, then add the flour and water mixture, and continue to simmer until the sauce thickens.
  5. Transfer the tofu and sauce to a serving bowl, sprinkle the Sichuan pepper and spring onion greens over it, and serve.

Pock-marked old woman's tofu
Apparently this is what the Chinese name of this dish means. One can only admire the honesty - it makes a refreshing change from all the adjective-laden titles of restaurant dishes in the UK. It also made me wonder if I have been missing a trick in marketing my own services. I always try to project a professional image in the belief that this will make people more likely to hire me as a translator, but I remember when I realised there was no going back from the freelance lifestyle for me. It was when I found myself halfway down the corridor that connects my 'office' (i.e., bedroom) to the toilet, unzipping my trousers in anticipation of arrival. Any lingering doubts were dispelled a couple of days later when I took an important conference call with a couple of academics writing a book on business decision analysis. Fortunately there was no video connection, so they had no way of knowing that I was completely naked and my face was still covered in shaving foam. So perhaps I should follow Ma Po's lead, and start selling myself as the Naked Translator.

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