It started with the turnips. Japanese turnips, fresh from the garden. This inspired me to use the fermented black beans, which I picked up at an Asian grocery store on a whim one (+) year ago. Sometimes my food-association astounds me. The fermented black beans led me to the question: “What do I do with these?”. Apparently not a whole lot that I could find. It is however the main ingredient of Doubanjiang, a Sichuan Chili Bean Sauce. Doubanjiang is also the star ingredient for Ma Po Tofu, a spicy wok tofu dish from the Sichuan province. And thus the dish was born! To add to the difficulty, I could not find a recipe for Doubanjiang, as apparently it is much more
sane common to use the pre-made sauce. Doubanjiang is also called toban djan, lado ban jiang, or Sichuan Chili Bean Sauce. After much searching, I found a base recipe that looked to match the ingredient label of a common pre-made sauce. The end result of this inspiration was a spicy hot-and-sour soup alternative that is addictive and delicious. Sometimes my crazy food-association games turn out better than even I could dream of!
As I do not own a wok, I didn’t want to compromise my first Ma Po Tofu experience with sub-par equipment, so I turned the concept into a stew. To help this I added eggplant and bok choy, with the final result of a spicy hot and sour soup type dish. The results were amazing. It will warm your soul, tickle your taste buds, and clear your sinuses. The soft tofu is almost unnoticeable (a concern for me and my texture issues). The eggplant and dried mushrooms add some texture, the greens colour, and the consommé (fancy word for clear broth) is absolutely divine. It will trick anybody into thinking that you slaved over a hot stove for hours building complex flavour, instead of the 45min. that it takes. I served the stew with a quick turnip pickle, to highlight the turnip inspiration. The robust flavour is due to the homemade Doubanjiang, and the fermented black beans. Of course, you can use the bought sauce – I’m sure it’d be just as delicious, and perhaps even more true to the Ma Po Tofu inspiration.
The Doubanjiang took less than 15min. to make, and most of that was rinsing the black beans. The black beans are fermented in salt, and right out of the package they’re like eating a salt lick. Make sure you rinse them very very well! The amount of Thai chilis seem excessive for only 2/3 cup of sauce, but if you think of the sauce as a spicy soy sauce, its more reasonable. I didn’t have the yellow rice wine or the dark rice vinegar, so I googled “appropriate” substitutions more common in my kitchen. Next time I will try to make the recipe as written, but this version was fantastic. The sauce itself was like a spicy vinegar soy sauce which was quite thick. I am not in the habit of having pre-made stir fry sauces on hand, but I am assuming this’d be fantastic with a quick Asian vegetable stir-fry. I tailored the recipe to use the full amount in the stew, and it was perfect!
This dish is sure to impress. Different and exotic, it is one I will be making again!
Ma Po Tofu and Eggplant Stew
4 dried flower mushrooms
6 cloves garlic, minced
⅔ cup doubanjiang sauce (lado ban jiang, toban djan; Sichuan Chili Bean Sauce)
4 cups eggplant, diced into ½” cubes (1 med.)
350g. soft tofu, drained and diced into ½” cubes
4+ cups water
2 tbsp. rice vinegar
3 cups bok choy, chopped
2 tbsp. Sriracha
4 scallions, green parts only, thinly sliced
1) In small bowl, cover dried mushrooms with 1” boiling water. Let soak for 30min., until soft.
2) In large pot, sauté garlic in 2 tbsp. of water on high, stirring frequently. Sauté until garlic slightly brown.
3) Stir in doubanjiang. Sauté for 1min.
4) Add the eggplant, stir. Cover and sauté until eggplant begins to get soft, approx. 5min. Add water as necessary to prevent sticking.
5) Add tofu and water. Stir very gently, so as to not break the tofu. Bring to a low boil.
6) Drain the mushrooms and slice into bite-sized pieces.
7) Add the sliced mushrooms and rice vinegar. Bring to a simmer and cook until eggplant tender, approx. 10min.
8) Add the bok choy and Sriracha. Stir and bring to a simmer.
9) Turn off heat, stir in scallions.
10) Serve with rice or Asian noodles of choice.
Doubanjiang Sauce (Lado Ban Jiang, Toban Djan; Sichuan Chili Bean Sauce)
10 fresh red Thai chilis, minced
⅓ cup fermented black beans
1 tbsp. yellow rice wine (sub: gin, white wine; I used rice vinegar)
2 tsp. dark rice vinegar (sub: balsamic vinegar)
½ tsp. Sucanet
1) With a fine mesh strainer, rinse the black beans really well, to remove all excess salt.
2) In small saucepan, sauté chilis and black beans in 2 tbsp. water on medium-low until fragrant, approx. 2-3min.
3) Add rice wine and rice vinegar. Simmer 3min. Add water as necessary for consistency.
4) Stir in Sucanet and remove from heat. Let cool completely
5) Store in mason jar in fridge: will keep for 3 weeks
Makes ⅔ cups of sauce