I recently got my Toronto Public Library Card, and have gone hog wild borrowing recipe books. On the top of my list were some Chinese cookbooks I’ve been meaning to check out, but haven’t seen at my local book stores. One such book, entitled The Chinese Kitchen, by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo was near the top of my list. After flipping through the book, I came across Mah Paw Dau Fu, a Sichuan classic Mah Paw Do Fu
that I knew under its Japanese moniker, “Mabo Dofu”.The version in Yin-Fei Lo’s book is slightly sweeter than the Japanese version my wife loves to make (in fact, I’m glad to say that it’s her signature dish) and reminded me of a kind of Chinese BBQ sauce, but with an Asian twist. When I sat down to make it tonight, I didn’t have any tofu, so I tweaked the recipe a bit and replaced the tofu with eggplant. Here is my version of Mah Paw Dau Fu. I made it in a frying pan, for which I’m sure I’ll be branded heretic by Chinese cooking purists.

INGREDIENTS

SAUCE
1 1/3 cup of Chicken Stock (homemade, please!)
3½ teaspoons of soy sauce
3 teaspoons of white vinegar (or Chinese rice wine vinegar, if you can get your hands on it)
1 tablespoon of Chinese cooking wine
1 tablespoon of sugar
¼ teaspoon of salt
¼ cup of ketchup (this is quite a sweet dish, so feel free to reduce this ketchup to 1/8 cup)
2 tablespoons of cornstarch (in a pinch, you can use rice flour)
1 tablespoon of sesame oil

EGGPLANT
1 large eggplant (two or three handfuls worth) chopped up in bigg’ish bite sized pieces
¼ cup of vegetable oil

BOWL 1
2 teaspoons of minced ginger
3 red Thai chillies, finely chopped

BOWL 2
2 teaspoons of minced garlic

BOWL 3
½ pound of lean ground pork

BOWL 4
2 tablespoons of Chili Sauce

CONDIMENTS
½ cup of scallions

RECIPE
1. First off, chop up your eggplant, rinse the pieces lightly in water, put the pieces in a bowl, and salt them. Let them sit in the bowl for about 20 minutes while you prepare the rest of the dish. The salt will draw out the bitterness of the eggplant, as well as the water. While that’s going on, set up your rice cooker and chop up the ingredients in all of your bowls. I use the bowl method because it is really the simplest way to plan your work (and then work your plan).

2. After your eggplant has sat in the salt for 20 minutes, rinse it down, drain off any liquid, and pat the eggplant dry – this will prevent the oil from “spitting” at you when you fry the eggplants. Next, heat up a frying pan to medium-high, and put in your vegetable oil. Once the oil begins to look hazy and hot (even a bit smoky is ok), carefully toss in a pan-full of eggplant and fry them until they are golden. Repeat as often as required. Remember not to crowd your eggplant pieces; this will steam them more than fry them. Once you’ve fried all your eggplant pieces, set them aside in a bowl (and keep them warm, if you can).

3. Clean out your frying pan, turn down the heat slightly, and put in the peanut oil (mmm….I love that smell). Once the oil is hot (but not too hot, you don’t want to burn your ingredients) toss in the Bowl 1 ingredients (ginger and chilli) for 1 minute to soften them up.

4. Next, throw in the contents of Bowl 2 (garlic) and fry for 30 seconds. Then, toss in your pork (Bowl 3) and break it up with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Once the pork is cooked and no longer pink, add the chilli sauce (Bowl 4) and combine it will with the contents of the pan. Now, add the eggplant, mix it up, turn up the heat to medium-high, and dump in your lovely sauce. Let the sauce simmer for about 3-5 minutes – just long enough to heat up and thicken to your liking.

5. Pour out the lovely mah paw dau fu into a large bowl, sprinkle with your scallions, and serve immediately with your rice.

One of the great things about Yin-Fei Lo’s book is how she compliments some of her recipes with the stories behind the dishes. The story of mah paw dau fu is interesting. According to legend, a woman with pockmarked skin started up a restaurant and served the dish to her customers. She did not, however, name the dish but the somewhat insensitive customers decided to name it after her: “the pockmarked grand-mother’s tofu”. It is truly a testament to the deliciousness of this dish that despite such an unpalatable name it should be as popular as it is.

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