Growing up, my mom (Mei) would cook mapo tofu for dinner and it was one of my absolute favorite dishes that she made. I know some people hate tofu and can’t stand the taste or texture of it, but I love it. Maybe it’s because I grew up eating it and it was something familiar that makes it so beloved to me. When I want some serious comfort food, I turn to this dish. It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s delicious, and it’s filling.
I know that there are a ton of versions of mapo tofu out there, but this is my mom’s recipe and how she makes it. Though I’ve scaled it down since I’m not cooking for a family of four with leftovers in mind!
Also in the recipe below, I’ve made some notes of substitutions for some ingredients. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how to make this recipe gluten-free since the black bean sauce that gives this dish its signature flavor contains gluten and I haven’t found any version in stores that’s gluten-free.
Mommy Mei’s Mapo Tofu
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 inch peeled fresh ginger root, minced
- 2 large stalks green onions (or scallions), sliced – save some of the green tops to add at the end of cooking
- 1 block (16oz) firm tofu, drained and cubed
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- ¼ pound ground pork (can be replaced with ground chicken/turkey/beef) [vegetarian note: replace the meat with ½ cup finely chopped mushrooms]
- 2 tablespoons Chinese black bean garlic sauce
- 1 tablespoon ground fresh chili paste (also called sambal oelek)
- ½ teaspoon white sugar
- 1-2 teaspoons soy sauce
- ¼ cup water (or chicken/veggie broth)
- Cornstarch slurry (1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons water)
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seed oil
- Prep your ingredients by mincing the garlic and ginger, slicing the green onions (save some of the green tops aside to add at the end of cooking), cubing the tofu, and mixing the cornstarch slurry.
- In a large pan, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat.
- Once the oil is heated, add in the minced garlic, ginger, and the unsaved portion of your green onions. Cook for about 2 minutes until fragrant.
- Add in your ground meat (or mushrooms) and continue to cook over medium heat while mixing frequently for about 4-5 minutes.
- Once the meat is mostly cooked through, add in the black bean garlic sauce, fresh chili paste, white sugar, and soy sauce. Mix well into the meat and continue to cook for another 3 minutes.
- Add in the cubed tofu and gently mix to ensure that all the cubes get coated in the sauce and meat mixture.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and let the tofu simmer in the sauce for 5 minutes.
- Add in the water and at least two tablespoons of the cornstarch slurry, gently mixing to combine everything and to let the thickened sauce coat the tofu. Continue to let it simmer for about 3 to 4 more minutes.
- Turn off the heat under the pan and add in the sesame seed oil plus the reserved green onions.
- Gently mix well before serving over hot rice or noodles.
Some people like to use soft or silken tofu for their mapo tofu. Feel free to use that, but keep in mind that it breaks up a lot easier when mixing and stirring while cooking. I use firm tofu since it has less chance of breakage so the cubes remain more intact after cooking.
Another note, some brands of black bean garlic sauce are very salty. My measurements are from using the Lee Kum Kee brand. You may need to adjust the amount of soy sauce you use depending on what brand you use.
The leftovers can be saved in an airtight container and reheated in the microwave.