A food writer/restaurant reviewer can’t, and shouldn’t, eat out all the time. A simple salad or bowl of broth is a great break from far too much fat that’s inevitable with many meals out.
My go-to meal when the refrigerator and pantry are bare, and I’m otherwise uninspired: ma po dou fu.
I love it, and make it almost every week. After testing many versions, I make mine based largely on Fuchsia Dunlop’s recipe. (Main adaptations: I prefer pork over beef, substitute scallions for leeks, and drop out the white sugar and soy sauce.) As Dunlop describes it, this classic Sichuan tofu dish is named after the smallpox-scarred wife of a Qing Dynasty restaurateur, who prepared the dish for cooking oil-bearing laborers on their way to market.
Ma po dou fu is intended to be a fiery dish, so I laugh when I see the brown versions at area restaurants. Instead, I’m looking for a red color, which makes me salivate from thoughts of spiciness.
In addition to the Sichuanese chili bean paste in Dunlop’s recipe, I typically double the amount of ground, roasted Sichuan peppercorns (this gives the ma, or numbing sensation), add two tablespoons of chili garlic sauce, and then add her suggested ground Sichuan chiles. (The last two items increase the la, or spice/heat factor.)
Ma po dou fu is a dish I want to taste the next day–and not just as leftovers for lunch.
First published on TheSunbreak.com on August 13, 2010.