Bad jokes aside, I *heart* my wok! Since I bought it, we have been cooking so much take-out-style Chinese food. It all started when I wrote about some Sichuan food that I enjoyed in Chicago. Right away, Manisha and Zlamushka both referred me to a wonderful cookbook called Land of Plenty by Fuschia Dunlop. (doesn't she have the most delicious name?)
This is an outstanding cookbook if ever I saw one. Dunlop (who is British) went to the Sichuanese province in China as a student for a few months, fell in love with the cuisine, and went on to become a full-time student in the cooking school there. She learnt how to read, write and speak Chinese, and the cookbook represents recipes that she has personally experienced there. It is an incredible ode to an incredible cuisine.
The dish that I was trying to make was the one I ate in that Sichuan restaurant- Ma Po Tofu. Dunlop translates the name as "Pock-Marked Mother Chen's Bean Curd", named after the person who is said to have created it. Sichuan cooking has a rigorous theoretical basis, it looks like, with 23 flavors and 56 cooking methods. This dish falls under the hot-and-numbing flavor, which tells you a thing or two! I have been cooking almost exclusively with extra-firm tofu or firm tofu, but I think soft tofu is best in this dish. I see soft tofu sold as just "tofu" without any qualifiers in Trader Joe's. The main flavor in this dish comes from Sichuanese chilli bean paste. I was able to find that easily in the international store. It is an addictively tasty paste.
As usual, my version has been adapted from the book. The changes I made to the original recipe are:
1. The recipe calls for 1/2 C oil, I reduce it to 2 T because I'm just not that brave a person.
2. The recipe calls for leeks, with scallions as an alternative. I used scallions. Dunlop specifies that the leeks or scallions should be cut on the bias- in diagonal slices; what Sichuanese cuisine vividly refers to as "horse ear" slices.
3. The original recipe calls for ground beef. I used soy granules, but this can be omitted altogether, she says.
4. For extra flavor, the recipe adds some fermented black beans but I skipped these (they are already present in the paste).
5. Chilli fiends are instructed to add some ground Sichuanese chillies but I did not have these either (anyway, I doubt either V or me can handle that much heat).
6. The final sprinkle on the dish is some ground Sichuan pepper. This is an ingredient that is very similar to (or possibly the same as) tirphal or teppal used in some Konkani or Goan dishes. It has a very distinct "tingly" taste. I skipped this ingredient too. So you see, my version is very watered-down, but it was extremely tasty anyway. When I get a chance to buy all those other ingredients, I look forward to making it the real thing.
Ma Po Dou Fu(Adapted from Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking by Fuschia Dunlop, serves 2-3)
1 block tofu, cut into cubes
3-4 scallions (green onions/ spring onions), sliced on the bias (at an angle)
2 T peanut oil
1/3 C soy granules (rehydrated TVP or Nutrela granules)
2 T Sichuan chilli-bean paste (or to taste)
1.5 C vegetable stock or water
2 T soy sauce
1 t sugar
1 T cornstarch, dissolved in 1/4 C cold water
1. In a seasoned wok, heat the oil until it is smoking. Add the soy granules and stir for a few seconds. Turn down the heat to medium.
2. Stir in chilli-bean paste and fry for a few more seconds.
3. Add the veg stock or water and let it simmer.
4. Add the tofu cubes and stir gently. Simmer them for 5 minutes.
5. Add the scallions and let them cook for 2-3 minutes.
6. Stir in soy sauce and sugar.
7. Add cornstarch mixture, drizzling it all over the wok, until the sauce thickens and becomes glossy. Only add as much as you need. Check for seasoning and serve right away!
I served the tofu with some stir-fried vegetable noodles for a superb meal.
Raaga commented that I am seem to be in love with soy granules/ TVP these days :) Well, I'm afraid it is a bit of a misrepresentation...this is what happens when you decide to publish a flurry of posts that have been languishing in the drafts for several weeks. With this post, the run of East Asian-inspired dishes comes to an end (for now!) and we will return to the regular programming- with some good old Indian food :D Meanwhile, if you have any favorite wok recipes, I would love to get recommendations!
***** ****** *******
A few days ago, Nags challenged us to Show Her Our Cookbooks and reveal our very favorite cookbook.
Many avid cooks amass vast collections of cookbooks. Mine is a very modest one, and a *very* motley collection, at that. It represents all the loving family and friends in my life who go out of their way to
And the second one...
I have spoken of my current favorite cookbook many many times, but here it is again, just for the record...
World Vegetarian by Madhur Jaffrey.
5 reasons I love this book:
1. It has hundreds of meatless recipes- a treasury of ideas for anyone who looks forward to a delicious vegetarian dinner every night.
2. The recipes come from all over the world from Brazil to Korea, Trinidad to Vietnam- you can taste the world, one dish at a time.
3. The recipes are home-style, often with names like Cheryl Rathkopf's Sri Lankan White Egg Curry and My sister, Kamal's "Alan ka Saag". They represent the best of home cooking.
4. Every ingredient, say, "Greens" or "Buckwheat" starts with an introduction of the food, its different forms/types and then an array of recipes to use the ingredient. There is such a wealth of information stored in this book. The words carry their own weight, and splashy pictures are restricted to a few pages in the centerfold.
5. All the recipes that I have tried from it have become instant favorites- Lubia Polo, Sri Lankan Mustard Greens and Oriya Mashed Potatoes to name just three.
See you on the weekend!