I’m going to keep this one short and sweet (except to say this post is for you, Patri!). The proof is in the pictures, after all. It’s closing in on 2 a.m. here and I am so wishing I had some of this dish leftover to eat right now. Eat at 2 a.m.?! Who does that! Oh, um, me. I’m not afraid to eat at this hour, oh no. A muffin held off most of my hunger but what I really wanted was Ma-Po Tofu.

Bits of beef and soft pieces of tofu have simmered in a salty, spicy red sauce that absolutely screams EAT ME!! And so we did. And it was good. I’m not sure what originally drew me to this recipe — probably the promise of a spicy kick on a cold night — but I’m so glad I made the effort.

Not that it takes much effort to make it. This recipe moves quickly, once you have everything chopped and combined in various bowls. Plate it over a bowl of hot rice and let the flavors scream in your ear (and mouth), too.

Ma-Po Tofu
slightly adapted from Epicurious
serves 4

1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns (I used regular, freshly-cracked pepper)
1 1/2 pounds soft (not silken) tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons Szechuan chili sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese black-bean paste
4 Tbsp Hoisin sauce, split
2 Tbsp Asian chili powder (I used 3/4 Tbsp red pepper flakes)
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup peanut oil
8 ounces ground beef
1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 scallion (white and green parts), thinly sliced
1 medium leek (white and pale green parts only), washed, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1/2-inch slices (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup rice wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 Tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)
Hot rice

Bring large pot of water to a boil. Add tofu, remove from heat, and steep (uncovered) for five minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer tofu to a medium-sized bowl and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine chili sauce, black bean paste, 2 Tbsp Hoisin sauce and red pepper flakes. Set aside.

In another small bowl, combine cornstarch and 3 Tbsp water. Set aside.

Heat a large saute pan or wok over medium high heat, then add peanut oil until hot. Add beef, ginger, garlic, scallions and leeks, cooking until meat is fully browned (roughly 3-4 minutes). Add rice wine, cook until mostly evaporated (roughly 1-2 minutes). Add hot bean paste mixture and cook until mixture is incorporated (roughly 1 minute).

Add tofu, broth, soy sauce and remaining 2 Tbsp of Hoisin sauce and bring to a boil. Whisk cornstarch if it has begun to separate, and add to pan. Cook for roughly one minute, or until mixture thickens slightly.

Serve over hot rice, garnishing with chopped cilantro. Enjoy with unabashed ardor.

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