(Sorta) Ma Po Tofu – Quick and Flavorful Weeknight Meal

Kurt and I have a musical son.  Instead of carting Ken to sports practices and games, we are E-T-E-R-N-A-L-L-Y driving him to auditions and rehearsals.  He’s done well, at only 15, he’s a veteran of one of the best area youth orchestras and a member of honors orchestras since 8th grade.  He wants to combine music and human/animal medicine in his “grown-up” life.  We’ll see how that changes as he gets older.

In the meantime, I’m always looking for a quick dish for those days he walks through the door from the metro and has little time to eat and get ready for an evening rehearsal.  Ma Po tofu is a Chinese dish made with tofu and ground pork, seasoned with aromatics like onion, garlic and ginger.  My recipe was initially based on a recipe I found online, but I didn’t have many of the ingredients, so I made my own substitutions.  My guys said it was just as good, if not better than what we order at our favorite Chinese restaurant.  Served with steamed rice, and baby bok choy and mushrooms sauteed with a little chicken stock, it’s winner in our family.

TOFU.  You either love it or hate it.  As a Filipina, I never ate tofu at home growing up, so I only recently started to cook with it.  It’s soy bean; it’s jiggly and takes on the flavor of whatever sauce you apply to it.  I use either soft or firm tofu.  Tofu is packed in water, so you must drain it (I just place it into a wire mesh colander) before using.

This is a one pot meal where the pork is sauteed, then the aromatics.  A simple sauce is poured into the pan along with the tofu and all is simmered for a few minutes.  A cornstarch slurry is added at the end (this is a typical Chinese method for thickening sauces) until the sauce is thickened to your liking.

Ma Po Tofu

  • 1/2 lb ground pork
  • 1 lb firm or soft tofu, drained and cut into cubes
  • 1 small onion, sliced radially
  • 4 tsp finely diced fresh ginger
  • 4 tsp finely diced garlic
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced

for the sauce:

  • 1 TB Korean hot pepper paste (gochujang)
  • 2 TB soy sauce (I use Filipino soy sauce)
  • 1/4 c chicken broth
  • splash of sesame oil

for the slurry:

  • 1 TB cornstarch
  • 2 TB water
ma po tofu ingredients

Ma Po tofu ingredients (ignore the Stoli)

The package on the left is the tofu; I buy mine at one of the many Korean grocery stores in our town.  The red box on the right is the Korean hot pepper paste.  If it’s easier in your neck of the woods to buy Chinese items, get the spicy black bean paste.

I start with the tofu; this is what it looks like when you peel back the plastic:

Tofu in its liquid

Tofu in its liquid

I pour off the liquid and place the chunk (it’s wobbly, but you can lift it up with your fingers) into a colander to continue to drain:

Let the tofu drain while you prep the veg

Let the tofu drain while you prep the veg

I then start with the ginger; you can easily peel ginger using a spoon to scrape off the outer layer.  It’s way faster than trying to use a paring knife:

Peeling ginger

Peeling ginger

It’s easiest for me to then cut the ginger into slices, then sticks, and finally into a fine dice.  Do whatever works for you:

How to finely dice ginger root

How to finely dice ginger root

On to the garlic (you want equal parts of both ginger and garlic):

Ginger and garlic are prepped!

Ginger and garlic are prepped!

The onion needs a radial cut:

Lastly, slice the green onion, even tho’ you won’t use it til the end.

All the aromatics

All the aromatics

It’s time to tackle the tofu, which should be easier to handle because more liquid has been released.  I make a series of cuts like this (but I am fairly freakish about cutting things evenly):

I place the sliced tofu back into the colander until it’s time for them to go into the pan.

Mix the sauce ingredients into a small bowl:

Make the cornstarch slurry (the cornstarch will settle at the bottom, so make sure you re-stir before adding at the end).

Slurry for thickening at the end

Slurry for thickening at the end

Now that everything’s ready, it’s a quick fry and simmer.  Heat a bit of oil in a pan (I used a ceramic non-stick), then add the ground pork, breaking it into pieces as it browns:

Once the meat has browned, add the aromatics:

Cook the vegetables until the onions are translucent, then add the sauce:

Gently add the tofu to the pork and vegetables, and combine to coat the tofu well:

Let the contents heat through; lower the heat if the liquid is evaporating too quickly.  (The tofu will continue to release water).  Add the cornstarch slurry and stir gently until sauce thickens.  Add the scallions and serve.

If I don’t think there’s enough sesame flavor from the sauce, I add a little more sesame oil on top.  Serve with steamed jasmine rice, and baby bok choy and mushrooms.

Packed with flavor!

Packed with flavor!

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Filed under Family, Food, Main Dishes

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