Easily one of the most — if not *the* most — popular Sichuan dishes outside of China, mapo tofu is probably the most accessible entry point into Sichuan's "mala" (ma = "numbing", la = "heat/spiciness") flavor profile. This dish is so quick to pull together that I can start my rice cooker and easily have this dish on the table before the rice is ready.
There are a couple tricky ingredients to source here, depending on where you live: Pixian doubanjiang, douchi, heaven-facing chili, and sichuan peppercorn. With the exception of heaven-facing chili, these are fundamental to this dish so they're worth tracking down.
Every Chinese grocery store I've ever been to has carried these, so if you've got one nearby, you're probably good to go. If you don't, Amazon carries the standard brands, but my absolute favorites come from themalamarket.com. (We have no relationship with them, they just import amazing Sichuan ingredients.)
Yield4 servings (with rice)
TimeAbout 30 total (20 active)
Bring a saucepan of salted water up to a boil.
Drain tofu and slice into 1/2-inch cubes. A standard tofu block should yield about 40 cubes.
Trim green onions and chop into 1-inch segments.
Mince (or crush) garlic and ginger.
Rinse douchi under running water.
Grind chili flakes, sichuan peppercorns, and white peppercorns into a fine powder.
Whisk 100g of water into your starch. Go slowly to prevent lumps from forming.
Once your saucepan comes to a boil, cut the heat, add tofu, and cover.
Preheat a skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add just enough oil to thinly cover the bottom of the pan. It should start shimmering almost immediately, but not smoke (if it smokes, reduce the heat).
Add your ground meat and brown until it just begins to become crispy and the water is mostly evaporated.
Push the meat off to the side of the pan and add garlic and ginger. Fry just until they become fragrant — maybe 30 seconds.
Add doubanjiang and stir into the oil to turn it bright red (this kinda depends on the amount of oil you have, so if it doesn't turn bright red, you may need to add a little more).
Mix everything together to coat in the red oil.
Add stock to pan and scrape up any bits fried onto the pan. Add douchi.
Gently transfer tofu cubes from their saltwater bath into the main pan.
Bring to a low boil for 5-10 minutes. The stock should reduce by about half and the tofu should begin to take on a reddish-tan hue.
Stir in green onions.
Turn up your heat to bring mixture to a fast boil.
Whisk your slurry back together and add a little bit at a time until the sauce becomes glossy and slightly thickened (the standard is kind of a thin gravy consistency, but feel free to adjust to your preference). You'll probably have a little slurry left over.
Cut the heat and stir in a little bit of the spice mix at a time. Taste and add more spice or slurry if you want it.
Serve with bowls of short grain rice and extra spice mix on the side.