Get all the ingredients ready, and you’ll have this tasty vegan Mapo Tofu, 麻婆豆腐 (Má pó dòu fu) in 30 minutes. This vegan version has all the flavors that you need: numbing, spicy, salty, and sweet all in one dish!
Mapo Doufu (Tofu) is one of the popular Sichuan tofu dishes that gains its popularity across the globe. There are a few articles online that you can read more about the history of Mapo Tofu.
What is your first thought when it comes to Sichuan cooking? Mine is Mala, 麻辣 (má là) which translates to numbing spicy hot. This flavor has all the hypes in Malaysia and can be ordered at seafood and hotpot restaurants.
But, what gives the dish the numbing flavor? Ma 麻 in Chinese means numbing and comes from the Sichuan peppercorn. This peppercorn is beautiful and fragrant once toasted.
You can easily source this ingredient online or at any Asian grocery store. I was gifted some from a friend who visited home a few years back. The dried peppercorn has a really long shelf life if you store it properly. I’ve also seen ground Mala (numbing spicy) mix that you can buy and simply add to your dishes.
Mapo Tofu is traditionally made with ground meat but many restaurants are happy to skip this ingredient if you’d asked. So, if you like spicy and numbing food, this vegan Mapo Tofu is for you. It is easy to make, flavorful, and packed with serious umami savoriness.
Vegan Mapo Tofu Key Ingredients
The key ingredients for this recipe are customizable to your taste preference. For example, add more chili powder if you like it more spicy or more Sichuan peppercorn for an extra numbing sensation.
Sichuan peppercorn – I used dried whole peppercorn that you can simply toast in a non-stick pan until fragrant. Then, pound or grind into powder. Or you can use ground peppercorn that you can find at the store.
Spicy Bean paste 辣豆瓣酱 (Là dòu bàn jiàng) is the soul of this dish which gives it the added depth of flavors. One of the most popular fermented bean paste comes from Pi Du district (formerly Pi Xian). However, I used a different brand that has a tad sugar in it. So, if you use the salty version, you’ll need to adjust the sugar level accordingly.
Tofu – I’ve made this dish with soft or silken tofu before and today I’m using medium-firm tofu. There isn’t a big difference for me probably because I love tofu a lot. If you have a preference on one, sub it accordingly.
How to make Vegan Mapo Tofu
Step 1: Prepare the Sichuan peppercorn
If you are using whole dried peppercorns, simply toast it on a non-stick pan for a few seconds until fragrant. Then, pound or grind into powder. Set it aside for later use.
I highly recommend that you double up your peppercorn amount if you love this numbing spice. Save the ground peppercorn in a cleaned jar once it’s cooled down and store in the refrigerator for future use.
Step 2: Prepare the tofu
Remove tofu from its package and drain out the water, then cut them into cubes. Fill a pot of water and bring it to a boil, then season with salt.
Carefully slide the tofu and make sure they are immersed in the water. Let the tofu cook in boiling water for about 4-5 minutes. Using a sieve, remove the tofu and set it aside. Don’t worry if there are some tofu cubes stuck to each other. They will separate again when you cook with the sauce below.
Step 3: How to put everything together
To create a meaty texture, I always love to use chopped King oyster mushrooms. Heat a large pan and add the oil.
Sauté mushrooms until they turn slightly brown and release its aroma. Push the mushrooms to the side of the pan and continue to sauté ginger, garlic, and green onion tops.
Once the spices are fragrant, add the spicy bean paste, chili flakes, and vegetable stock. Bring it to a boil and season with ShaoXing wine, soy sauce, sugar, and mushrooms powder.
Add the tofu and let the tofu cook in this until the sauce is reduced. Add the ground peppercorn and chopped green onions. Slowly stir in the cornstarch slurry until you get your desired thickness.
Turn off the heat and serve with a bowl of rice. Enjoy!
Vegan Mapo Tofu Cooking Tips
1. Boil the tofu in hot water
In my video, you’ll see that I cook the tofu in hot boiling water for a few minutes until they start to puff up. Firstly, this step is to remove the tofu taste. As some think that tofu has a bean taste, this step will take care of that. However, I personally love the tofu flavor a lot.
Secondly, when you boil the tofu in salted water, the salt will draw out the water traps inside the tofu. It will also create tiny hollow spaces. These holes will allow the sauce to seep through that gives the tofu the maximum sauce absorption.
Finally, by cooking the tofu this way, they actually are less fragile when you add them to sauce to simmer later.
- The tofu will stick to each other easily, so try to minimize the stirring when they are in the boiling water.
- Soft tofu is more fragile so use a large surface pan to boil them. When you dish them out, place them on a flat plate until ready to use.
- It’s completely normal to have some broken tofu in this dish.
- Tofu boiling time varies:
- Soft Tofu – boil for 2-3 minutes
- Medium-firm – boil for 4-5 minutes
- Firm tofu – boil up to 8 minutes
2. Toast or Temper Sichuan Peppercorn
There are 2 ways to bring out the peppercorn flavor. The first method is to toast and then ground into powder. The second is to temper in oil until fragrant. After you have sieved out the oil and cool to handle, chop the tempered peppercorn or keep it as a whole before adding to the sauce. The oil can be used for cooking or as a drizzle to the finished dish.
3. Spicy Bean Paste
There are a variety of spicy bean paste brands on the shelves. As mentioned, the most famous one typically comes from Pi Xian. In this recipe, I used my Zha Jiang Mian‘s bean paste leftover and they taste equally great. Since my paste is a bit sweeter, I used a little more paste to add that saltiness to this dish.
There needs to be a balance of sweet and salt in this dish. So, if your bean paste is saltier, add a little sugar to balance the taste.
This Vegan Mapo Tofu is
- packed with delicious umami flavors from spicy bean paste and Sichuan peppercorn
- numbing and spicy hot
- Easily customizable: adjust the spice level accordingly
- Gluten-free options
If you try this recipe, I would love to hear your feedback and see your beautiful re-creation. Leave me a comment, rate it, and tag @woon.heng and #woonheng to your photos on Instagram or Facebook. Happy cooking, friends!
Vegan Mapo Tofu – 麻婆豆腐
- ½ tablespoons Sichuan peppercorn
- 28 oz medium-firm tofu drained
- 3 oz mushrooms finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon finely minced ginger
- 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
- 3 tablespoons white part of the green onions or leek or yellow chives
- 2 tablespoons spicy bean paste see notes
- ½ tablespoons chili powder
- 3 cups vegetable stock
- 2 tablespoons Shao Xing wine
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon mushrooms powder
- 2 tablespoon cornstarch + 3 tablespoons water
- chopped green onions
- salt to taste
- oil for cooking
- To prepare the Sichuan peppercorn, heat a non-stick pan over low heat.
- Toast the peppercorns until fragrant. When you hear a popping sound or see some peppercorns jumping in the pan, they are ready.
- Turn off the heat immediately and let it cool down.
- Transfer to a spice blender or mortar. Grind or pound into ground pepper, then set it aside until later.
- Next, cut the tofu into cubes and place them on a plate.
- Bring a pot of water to boil and season with ½ teaspoon of salt.
- Carefully slide the tofu into the boiling water. Be sure you have enough water to cover all the tofu's surface.
- Cook the tofu for about 4-5 minutes or until they look plump. Using a sieve, drain out the water and transfer tofu to a plate.
- Now, heat a large wok and add 1 tablespoon of oil.
- Sauté mushrooms until they turn slightly brown and fragrant. Push the mushrooms to the side of the pan.
- Sauté ginger, garlic, and the white part of the green onion until aromatic, add more oil if needed.
- Add the spicy bean paste, chili powder, and vegetable stock.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, then season with Shao Xing wine, soy sauce, dark soy sauce, sugar, and mushrooms powder (if using).
- Stir the mixture until the sugar has melted.
- Carefully slide the tofu into the broth, making sure that all tofu is immersed. Bring the heat back to a boil.
- Then, lower the heat to medium-low while maintaining a low boil. Cook the tofu until the broth has reduced to half. Stir occasionally and taste. Season accordingly.
- Add the chopped green onions and stir the cornstarch slurry* until you get your desired thickness.
- Finally, add the ground peppercorn* and a drizzle of chili oil before serving.
- Serve warm with a bowl of rice. Enjoy.
- The spicy bean paste that I used had a little sugar in it. If yours is without, please adjust the sweetness level accordingly.
- *Slowly add in the ground peppercorn and adjust the numbing flavor accordingly.
- Add the cornstarch in 3 portions. The first portion is to allow the tofu to absorb the sauce, the second is to thicken the sauce, and finally is to create a glossy look of the final product.