OK, maybe tofu is an acquired taste. It's a bit bland in its natural state, but it has a variety of lovely textures, from silky soft to firm and chewy, and it picks up flavor from sauces like nobody's business.
And there's no reason you can't mix it with meat. It's just another form of protein to add dimension to a dish. Certainly the Chinese know that, and they invented this yummy dish, Mapo Tofu With Pork, that is a easy weeknight dinner. It serves four, generously.
- 1 lb. ground pork (you can use less, of course)
- 1-2 chile peppers such as jalapeño or Thai chile, thinly sliced (2 Thais gives it a nice heat for me but not enough for the Sergeant. He doctors his with pepper flakes.)
- 3-4 garlic cloves, sliced
- 1 knob of ginger, minced
- 8-12 scallions/green onions/spring onions, cut mostly into roughly half-inch sections. Thinly slice the topmost part of the greens and set aside separately.
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste (you can get it in a tube now, which is convenient)
- 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns, toasted and ground in a mortar. Or black pepper if that's what you have (but invest in Sichuan peppercorns if you can; their flavor is unique.)
- 1 can low-sodium chicken broth
- 3 tablespoons Chinese black bean garlic sauce
- 1 heaping tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 pound soft tofu, cut into 1-inch pieces (Do this ahead of time and leave the tofu to dry a little on paper towels, if you can. But it's not critical.)
- Fresh or lightly dried basil
- (Optional: 1 package pre-sliced mushrooms that your husband accidentally bought to put on pizza when you'd already bought a package the day before. Heat some oil and sautée them until they are almost caramelized, then set aside. More umami for your dish!)
- Start a pot of rice or fire up your rice cooker. I cook 2 cups of rice for the Sergeant and me. That's enough for dinner, plus a generous serving to package up with leftovers for my lunch the next day. The Sergeant makes fresh rice for his lunch.
- Heat oil in a big skillet and cook the ground pork for 8-10 minutes until well browned.
- Add the chile(s), garlic, ginger, and chopped scallions and cook for 3 minutes (you should be able really smell the garlic and ginger).
- Add tomato paste and Sichuan peppercorns and cook for a minute.
- Then add the chicken broth and black bean garlic sauce and bring to a simmer. (Add those accidental mushrooms now, too, if using.)
- Mix cornstarch with a splash of water in a small bowl and add it to the sauce and stir to incorporate it thoroughly.
- Add tofu and gently fold it the sauce over it, then cover the pan and let it simmer for a few minutes.
- Remove from heat and fold in the green sliced scallion tops.
- Serve the tofu over rice sprinkled with torn-up fresh basil leaves or a sprinkling of dried basil.
This recipe is originally from Bon Appétit. I've modified it for my tastes and cooking style.