Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Something Szechuan...

I had a hankering for something spicy and full of texture tonight so I stopped at the Asian Grocery store on my corner on the way home (yes, I realise I'm blessed when it comes to having fabulous ingredients on my doorstep. I'm very lucky.) I picked up some fresh coriander, bean sprouts, some lovely red chillies, some minced pork and the ingredient that is the star of tonight's dinner - tofu - aka beancurd.
If the thought of tofu makes you zone out, or you think that you would rather eat a dish sponge, bear with me. For years I never touched the stuff, swearing off it because of evil tasting tofu concoctions I tasted in the 80's. These dishes were usually made by dodgy, unwashed vegetarian flatmates in the filthy share house kitchens of my youth. Thank goodness I put all of that behind me and gave this ingredient the respect it deserves. There is a reason that Asian cultures have eaten this ingredient for centuries. It is cheap, versatile and completely delicious.

The wonderful thing about tofu is the way that it takes on flavour. People often complain that it has no taste, or that tofu dishes are bland. All this means is that the cook has missed the point of this great ingredient. To me, tofu is about texture. It can be slippery and silky, firm and meaty, crispy and caremelised. It is so versatile and lends itself to all kinds of dishes and takes on other flavours so beautifully.

There are 3 main forms of tofu that you will see in your Asian market or health food store. Silken tofu, which is very soft (sometimes you will see it in a form that is so soft it is almost a liquid) regular or medium tofu that is soft, but will hold it's shape as long as you are gentle with it (what I used in tonight's dish) and hard tofu, which is very forgiving, can be cut into cubes and survives rougher treatent. There is also sweet tofu - be sure that you don't buy it by mistake if you intend on making a savoury dish. I did that once. Note to self - strawberry flavoured tofu and pork fillet don't mix.

Tonight's tofu dish is chock full of flavour - I made it extra spicy but put as much or as little chilli in it as you like. It is loosely based on the iconic Szechuan dish, Ma Po Tofu. This dish is very quick to cook so it is a perfect midweek dinner. I decided to make a side dish of pineapple rice to go with the tofu (I ate lots of this when I was in Singapore and became addicted to it, so tasty!) The one I made tonight is a super quick, basic version with only a few ingredients but it goes beautifully with the tofu dish.

The only thing about cooking any fried rice dish is that the rice needs to be cooked beforehand and allowed to get cold (overnight in the fridge is best) If you use freshly cooked, hot rice, the rice will just break up and you will end up with a stodgy mess. If you haven't planned ahead for your fried rice, do what I do - make a sneaky trip to the supermarket and buy one of those packs of pre-cooked rice. They work brilliantly for any fried rice dish and one of those packs actually serves 4 people, once you add the other ingredients. The rice holds together perfectly and it is super convenient.

All I did for the rice was to put a touch of vegetable oil in the wok, whisk 3 eggs and throw them in to scramble. When they are cooked, take them out and set aside. Then I added the rice (one of those packs from the supermarket I talked about earlier), a cup of cooked peas, a cup of pineapple (chopped into small bits) and a handful of sliced spring onion. Stir fry the ingredients then add a splash of ligh soy sauce, a teaspoon sesame oil and some cracked pepper. Done!

Tofu with Spicy Pork
Served with tasty pineapple rice

For the tofu: 1 handful minced pork, 1 small red onion chopped finely, 2 cloves crushed garlic,
200g regular tofu - diced, half cup fresh sliced green beans, 1 cup fresh beansprouts, half cup of roughly chopped coriander, third of a cup sliced spring onions, red chilli (sliced finely to taste), splash of vegetable oil, extra coriander/chilli to garnish.

For the sauce: 1 tablespoon chilli jam (you can use sambal or other chilli sauce if you wish, but chilli jam gives the best flavour), 2 tablespoons oyster sauce, 1 cup chicken stock. 2 teaspoons cornflour dissolved in half a cup of cold water.

Method: Mix up all of the sauce ingredients except the cornflour/water mixture and set aside.

In a pan, heat a splash of oil and add the red onion and garlic. Cook till soft, then add the pork mince and cook till lightly browned. Add the tofu, and gently stir through. Add the sauce mixture and let it simmer for a couple of minutes.

Add the sprouts, coriander, spring onion and red chilli and stir through. Finally, add the cornflour mixture and stir it through. It should thicken fairly quickly. Serve right away with a sprinkling of the extra chilli and coriander.

Note: You can easily make this a vegetarian dish by using vegetable stock instead of chicken stock, omitting the pork and using vegetarian oyster sauce that is available in all Asian supermarkets.



  1. I do not see any floss on the pineapple rice.....

    For those of you who don't know its sort of like fairy floss but made out of meat. eeeewww

    But it is tasty, and if you can get your hands on it, thats the crowning glory for a pineapple rice

  2. I actually saw meat floss for the first time in Australia when I was in Chinatown the other day. So, if I get a hankering for it, I know where to go now ;)

  3. ooo... i am a tofu super fan! sigh. i want the mapo tofu soooooo badly right now. with rice.

    Here I bought a sauce pack so as to skip all the seasonings! and i will try this friday after work.

  4. Hi Sophie - let me know what the sauce was like. Haven't tried any pre made ones, so I'm interested...

  5. Nice,,,something different,,,,thanks!