Saturday, February 17, 2007

Chinese Dinner

Chengdu Mapo Dofu with Peanut Butter Noodles, served with Sesame Broccoli
From Virginia's Vegan World Kitchen

I love this dish with an irrational passion and eat it at least once a month. Mapo dofu is eaten all over China and more recently in Japan. It is normally served with white rice. However in a little restaurant in Chengdu they served with it with the most luscious Peanut Butter noodles. The flavors are simply divine together and now I can't eat it any other way. Here I've added some steamed broccoli drizzled with a little sesame seed oil. The light, fresh broccoli complements the heavier dishes and adds vitamins. You could also serve it with steamed snow peas dressed the same way. For the peanut butter noodles, by far the best peanut butter to use is the pure, unadulterated, fresh ground peanut butter. At the health food store by my house, they have a grinder all set up with a hopper full of fresh, roasted organic peanuts. You hit the switch, hold your container underneath, and out comes the good stuff. If this is not available, the next best thing is no salt, no sugar, no added (or substituted) oil, health food peanut butter.

Nearly all the time for this dish is spent in prep. Actual cooking time is less than 10 minutes.


For the Mapo Dofu:

For the sauce:
1/2 cup vegetable stock
1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons any chili paste with soybean or soybean paste with chili
1-2 teaspoons ground cayenne pepper (depending on how hot your chili paste with soybean is)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch

For the pan:
1/2 container of Firm or Extra Firm Tofu (about 6 ounces)
1/4 cup vegan burger crumbles or tvp crumbles (can be omitted)
2 Tablespoons oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
3 green onions, sliced into rounds including most of the green
Sesame seeds for garnish
Chopped cilantro for garnish

For the Peanut Butter Noodles:

For the sauce:
3/4 cup pure peanut butter (see description above). If unavailable, substitute grocery store "natural" chunky peanut butter (like Laura Scutters). If you absolutely must, you can use commercial peanut butter like Skippy, but you'll need to adjust your seasonings
1/2 cup vegetable stock
2 Tablespoons sesame oil
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 Tablespoon rice vinegar (unsweetened/seasoned - if you only have sweetened, you'll need to adjust your seasonings)
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sugar (if using commercial peanut butter or sweetened rice vinegar, omit)
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

For the pot:
4 oz vegan Chinese Lo Mein noodles (substitute linguine if you can't find them)
1 green onion sliced into rounds including most of the green for garnish

For the Broccoli with sesame oil

1 cup of broccoli crowns per person
Sesame oil
Sesame seeds for garnish

Putting it all together:
First, set the water to boil for your noodles while you make your sauces. For the Mapo Dofu, combine all ingredients except the cornstarch in a bowl or measuring cup. Mix well. For the Peanut Butter Noodles sauce, mix the peanut butter well, then add your wet ingredients a little at a time until they are well incorporated, then mix in the remaining ingredients. the sauce should be somewhat thin, like a thin pancake batter. If it's too thick, add a little water. This sauce will thicken a little when it sits.

Next, mince your garlic and ginger, slice your scallions and cut your tofu into cubes. Chop your broccoli into florets and set up your steaming apparatus.

Begin cooking your noodles as per package directions, and heat your oil on high in the pan or wok for the tofu. When hot, put in the garlic and ginger. Stir fry for a few minutes or until garlic just begins to brown. Add the green onions and cook for a minute or two more. Add the tofu and reduce heat to medium-high, stir and fry for 5 minutes. Add the sauce and the burger crumbles (if using), reduce heat to medium-low, and allow to simmer until your noodles are done. If you're using TVP crumbles, simmer until they are completely re-hydrated. This is a good time to steam your broccoli. When your noodles are just about done, add the cornstarch, dissolved in a tablespoon of water, to the tofu dish. Bring to a boil and stir until sauce begins to thicken. Remove from heat.

Drain your now cooked noodles and fold in the sauce mix. You may not need all of the sauce depending on how much water is clinging to the noodles. Leftover sauce is spectacular on steamed veggies or, thinned out with water and chilled, as a salad dressing.

Remove your broccoli from the steamer and drizzle a healthy bit of sesame seed oil (maybe 2 teaspoons per serving) and salt to taste.

When serving, garnish the Mapo Dofu with sesame seeds and cilantro, the noodles with green onions, and the broccoli with sesame seeds.


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