People say, “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” and my blogging hiatus has definitely increased my affinity for my corner of cyber space, and cooking, in general. People also say, “you want what you can’t have,” and during my functional break from my right hand, all I wanted to do was cook. And I couldn’t. So, as I started to see some progress with my burn, I began to plot. Regardless of the diminishing pain, I knew the bandage would impede me from effective chopping, just as it impeded me from so many other things. So I searched for a recipe that would satiate my need to cook and blog, but also placed little demands upon my right hand. The recipe that fit these stipulations arrived in the form of mapo tofu, a spicy Chinese dish consisting of soft tofu and minced pork.
That’s right, I said it: tofu and pork, happy together. For us Americans, who generally view tofu as a health food, and a vegetarian mainstay, this may sound a little sacra-religious. However, mapo tofu is a traditional Szechuan dish. I think it’s genius: the smooth, tender tofu gets a flavor boost from the richness of a little ground pork. It’s spicy; it’s garlicky; and the ingredients for this particular version are available at the regular grocery store, without costing a fortune. Chopping requirements are as follows: minced garlic and ginger; chopped tofu; chopped scallions. As far as my bum hand was concerned, I decided that grating the ginger and garlic (see photo below) with my left hand was feasible, and I CAREFULLY did some left-handed knife work on the scallions and tofu, with minor assistance from my right thumb. To be honest, I’m pretty impressed with my impromptu lefty knife skills (however, I will not disclose how long those scallions took me). Even more impressive, the authorities at the burn clinic gave me permission to let my burned hand see sunlight only 14 hours after my mapo tofu experience. There’s only one explanation: cooking cures all (of course, as long you avoid metal that has been roasting in the oven).
Now for the bad news: I wasn’t exactly thrilled with my mapo that first night. It satiated my cooking desires, but not my taste buds. I primarily blame this on the fact that I absentmindedly ate Chinese food the night before, because I ended up enjoying the leftovers. Initially, I wanted to serve this with brown rice, but I went with white rice due to time constraints. That was a lucky choice because mapo tofu with brown rice would have resulted in a big bowl of beige, and beige is not appetizing. White rice provides the necessary contrast for aesthetic appeal. Overall, if you are looking to dabble in Asian cooking, this is nice starting point. According to the author of this recipe, vegetables or ground turkey can be substituted for the pork. Regardless of this, I would recommend reducing the sesame oil to ½ teaspoon for balanced flavor.
Mapo Tofu (loosely adapted from “No Recipes”)
1 tablespoon tamari or other good soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2-3 teaspoons Sriracha [I used at least 3]
1 teaspoon sesame oil [This was a little strong: I’d recommend ½ teaspoon. You can always add more]
1 teaspoon corn starch
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon canola oil [or other light colored oil]
2 cloves of garlic, grated
1 tablespoon of fresh ginger, grated
6 scallions, sliced thin
½ lbs. ground pork [note: the original recipe permitted pretty much anything as a substitute from vegetables to ground turkey)
1 package silken tofu, cut into ½ inch cubes [the package I used was 19 oz.]
½ to ¾ cup frozen peas [they don’t have to be thawed]
§ Mix the first group of ingredients in a bowl to make the sauce. Adjust seasonings as you see fit.
§ Preheat oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Once it’s hot, sauté garlic, ginger, and scallions for about 30 seconds.
§ Add the ground pork, and break it up with a wooden spoon. When the meat is cooked, drain off any excess oil [this takes some time: carefully pour off what you can, and use paper towels to blot up the rest].
§ Add sauce mixture. Stir to combine, then add the tofu and peas. If the sauce seems thick, add some water and cook until the tofu is heated through. Handle the mixture gently so you don’t mash up the tofu.
§ Serve with white rice, and extra Sriracha, if desired.