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i find comfort there

Recipe: ma pu tofu

NaBloWriMo day 29.

Okay, I have caught up on answering questions in the comments. Sorry about falling behind. *pointing finger at NaBloWriMo*

The day after my grandma’s 88th birthday while I was still in California, Jeremy relayed the sad news that his own grandmother had passed away that morning. It was a shock as I cried into my aunt’s shoulder. I call my MIL, Mom. I call my FIL, Dad. I called Jeremy’s grandfather, Grandpa and I called his grandmother, Grandma. She was my grandma too.

she loved pink

Not long after Jeremy and I started dating almost 17 years ago to the day, we took a trip to New Mexico and I met his family. And then I went to Sunday dinner at Grandma and Grandpa’s house to meet all of the aunts, uncles, cousins… We paid a visit before dinner and his grandparents treated me like one of their own. It probably won’t surprise anyone to learn that these two very special people were the sweetest, most gentle souls in Jeremy’s life. He would go to their house before and after school, every day from age 6 to 16. He even kept his bike there (which Jeremy informs me is a big deal). Jeremy told me they always had the good sugary cereals in their cupboards. And of course, he spent every Sunday at his grandparents’ house – the whole clan did. They didn’t just go for Sunday dinner, they went in the morning and played cards and games. It was the hub of activity for the family.

Sunday dinners continued after Grandpa passed away twelve years ago. Whenever we were in town, we always reserved Sundays for Grandma’s house. If we weren’t staying over a Sunday, we’d make a point of visiting with Grandma. She loved chocolate, loved the color pink, loved having her grandchildren around, loved to eat out with friends. Grandma was an ace bowler, did the crossword puzzle every day, beat the pants off of everyone at Gin Rummy, won first place regularly at the state fair for her handwork… but most of all, she gave good hugs and had a smile that lit up the room. In the morning, we drive to New Mexico to be with Jeremy’s family and to say good-bye to this beautiful woman whose love nurtured three generations.

It’s been cold and snowy here. While cross country skiing yesterday, Jeremy and I silently made our way through the woods both lost in our own thoughts, both thinking about his grandmother. It only made sense that dinner tonight should be a comfort food – one that warms the body and sets the mind and heart at ease.

pork, bamboo shoots, green onions, chinese black mushrooms, chili-garlic sauce, tofu

minced black mushrooms (rehydrated), green onions, bamboo shoots

Jeremy loves ma pu tofu for the textures, the spice, the stew-like nature. I love it because my mom and grandma both made this when I was growing up. When I eat it, it feels like a hug from home.

pouring chicken broth into the sautéed pork and vegetables

adding soy sauce, sesame oil, and tofu

Most people who dislike tofu usually complain that it has no flavor. To that, I say, “You clearly don’t know how to cook tofu.” Actually tofu DOES have a subtle flavor, but I won’t get into that right now. Ma pu tofu packs a lot of great warm flavors and you can make it as spicy or mild as you like (but I tell ya, spicy is gooooood). I like to add a few spoonfuls of both the garlic black bean sauce and the chili garlic sauce. Oddly enough, when I was looking for the jar of black bean sauce in my refrigerator today, I found not one, not two, but THREE open jars. You can never have enough, really.

garlic black bean and chili garlic – like peanut butter and jelly, yo!

stirring in the extra kick

In case you do decide to rush out and make this, I highly recommend buying firm tofu (not extra firm, just plain old firm) instead of silken or soft tofu. This is mostly because when you stir the pot, the cubes of tofu don’t fall apart as easily with firm tofu. I’ve made this with silken tofu before and the resulting dish, while delicious and perfectly edible, had an uncanny resemblance to vomit. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

serve hot

also particularly satisfying over steamed rice

Ma Pu Tofu
[print recipe]
this one is straight from my head

1 tbsp vegetable oil (NOT olive oil)
3 oz. ground pork
1/2 cup bamboo shoots, minced
1/2 cup Chinese black mushrooms, rehydrated, rinsed, cleaned, and minced
1/2 cup green onions, minced
20 oz. chicken broth (homemade is better, but canned is okay), add more if you like it soupier
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
2-3 lbs. firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tbsps corn starch
1/4 cup water
2 tbsps garlic black bean sauce
1-2 tbsps chili garlic sauce

In a large saucepan, heat the oil over high flame. Add the pork when the oil is hot and sauté. When the pork is barely pink, add the bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and green onions and stir-fry until fragrant. Pour the broth, soy sauce, and sesame oil into the pan. Let it come to a boil and add the tofu. Cover the pot and let it simmer for 10 minutes. Mix the cornstarch with the water and stir it into the pot. Let the mixture return to a boil and stir in the garlic black bean and chili garlic sauces to taste. Serve over steamed rice.

43 nibbles at “i find comfort there”

  1. alice says:

    This is one of my favorite dishes to make and eat at home.. except I use one of those cheater boxes that comes with sauce.. and you add tofu and meat. Now that I see how easy it to make I am going to make it from scratch with your recipe. Thanks Jen. Awesome as always.

  2. Maria says:

    Sorry for your loss. Sending you and your family my best. The tofu dish looks superb!

  3. Melissa says:

    Straight from the head. The best. A delicious dish, to be sure, and comforting indeed.

    You convey her so beautifully Jen. Sending love to you and Jeremy and his whole family in remembering this wonderful woman.

  4. Manisha says:

    And what a good head you have on you! I’ve always wanted to make ma pu tofu but never dared. Maybe now I will!

    Safe travels and warm hugs to you and Jeremy.

  5. Sarah Welch says:

    What a beautiful remembrance of your Grandma (in-law). I feel the same way about my hubby’s Grandma :) Sending healing thoughts to you and your family

  6. Dani says:

    I’m sure you already know that you and Jeremy have lots of love and prayers going with you on this sad trip. Drive safe and please take care of yourselves and each other. It’s good you’ll be able to spend time with family.

  7. Cathy/ShowFoodChef says:

    What a generous spirit you have, that in such a challenging time, you have left us with a warming dish to make while you travel. You seem so nurturing. It’s wonderful that you and Jeremy have each other. Can’t wait to try this, too.

  8. Ronine says:

    Sorry to hear about yours and Jeremy’s loss and although it is sad times for the family, it must be comforting to know that she has had a full and remarkable life. Imagine having your family around every sunday… it’s truely an amazing effort and certainly says something about what a lovely – and loving – woman, Grandma was.

  9. Mrs Ergül says:

    My condolences to you and Jeremy.

  10. Kristin says:

    I’m very sorry about your loss. Thank you for sharing about Jeremy’s grandparents…it brought back great childhood memories about my own.

  11. Bridget says:

    Beautifully written. Good thoughts sent your way! Drive safe!

  12. Sil says:

    So sorry for yours and Jeremy’s loss. And thank you for sharing with us how precious your grandma was. I lost mine last year and my husband’s support was so important to me. Take good care of yourselfs. Cariños.

  13. Jenncharina says:

    Thank you so much for this recipe. Ma Pu Tofu is one of my favourite dishes to order (that and Shrimp with Lobster Sauce).

    Condolences for your loss of a wonderful woman and role model. Her legacy of love and family lives on.

  14. TheKitchenWitch says:

    Love the pink flowers (I AM the chick who has the pink laptop mouse, you know) and the memories of Jer’s Grandma.

    I’m wishing you both some comfort and big hugs. Looks like a nice bowl of spicy (yes!) Ma Pu Tofu was definitely in order. Safe travels, Jen.

  15. SallyBR says:

    Beautiful tribute….

    my condolences to you and Jeremy…

  16. Charr says:

    I do not eat sweetners. I use fermented black beans often- do you think it would work in this?
    Probably a bit different but hopefully ok. The thing is that I am never sure if I sub the same amount.

    Love your website, writing, pictures insight, DOGGIE!!!!

    RIP sweet Grandma. Prayers for you and Jeremy.

  17. Michelle says:

    a lovely tribute to Grandma. And thank you, thank you, thank you for this recipe. My husband and I LOVE this dish, but his mom always make it from the dreaded sauce packet bought in Asian markets. I love the dish so much I turn a blind eye to the ingredients of the packet, but now I have a true recipe for it! I cannot wait to make this!

  18. mandybird says:

    my husband makes the japanese version of this delicious dish, mabo dofu, and a trick for keeping the tofu a bit more intact is to pan-fry it first (he’ll often use crushed red pepper flakes and other spices to kick it up). the sides get seared a bit, so it stays together, then you add it to the “gravy” to soak up even more flavor.

    wishing you and your families comfort…

  19. Sean says:

    This is probably my favorite Szechuan dish. Just love the flavor combination and the slight numb feeling you get in your mouth after eating it. Absolutely delicious.

    I think if people have had tofu that’s tasteless, it just hasn’t been prepared well. While tofu has a subtle personality by itself, it does an excellent job in taking on the flavors of whatever it’s placed in. Thank you for sharing this great post with us!

  20. Collette says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss. I hope the time with family remembering her will go a little way to ease the sorrow.

  21. Nicisme says:

    Sorry to read this, have a safe journey.

  22. Susan says:

    A lovely post and a beautiful heartfelt blog. I will definitely try your tofu dish. Continue to treasure each day and each person in your life, as you do. Safe travels…

  23. Rose says:

    Sorry for your loss. May you and your family find strength in the love that surrounds you.

  24. Giorgia says:

    what a sweety post for your grandma Jen :)

  25. Shelley says:

    I have been following your blog for a while now. Your post about “your” Grandma is so touching and one that I am sure many can understand. Following it with a yummy comfort food recipe has me planning to make this soon.

  26. Jaden says:

    kisses hugs and more kisses to you….

  27. Y says:

    Jen and Jeremy, very sorry to hear about your grandmother’s passing.

  28. jo says:

    Jen, my condolences to you and Jeremy. Your story is such an enduring one! Such fond memories will surely keep your grandma close to your hearts no matter that she has passed to another better place.

  29. white on rice couple says:

    Both of you have been in our deepest thoughts. Thank you for the lovely tribute to Grandma, what an amazing woman she was. Sending our love to all of you and your whole family. XOXO.

  30. Nicole says:

    This is one of my favorite Chinese food. When my grandma was still with us every week she would cook this and I haven’t tasted any ma po tafu that surpasses my grandma’s. Whenever I eat this in the resto or my mom cooks this, I always remember my grandma.

  31. alexis says:

    This is awesome! I will definitely try this soon. How long does it keep afterwards (for leftovers)?

  32. Meaghan says:

    I love this dish! My boyfriend puts miso in it, as that is how his Japanese mom does it, but aside from that it looks much the same.
    Your tribute to Jeremy’s grandmother was lovely to read.

  33. Leigh says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss, and your family’s.

    I’m grateful for the recipe though – I made a version (version because I didn’t pay any attention to amounts of pork or tofu when I was grocery shopping, and because my grocery store doesn’t carry garlic black bean sauce) earlier this week. Delicious, warm and comforting – just what I needed when my boyfriend went on a last-second business trip.

  34. Karina Wang says:

    Do you have a recipe for homemade chicken broth?

  35. Stefanie says:

    hi – i made this for dinner tonight and it was fantastic! THANKS!

  36. Hannah says:

    what would happen if i omitted the pork? Is there something meatless i can use instead?
    it looks great :)

  37. jenyu says:

    Thanks for all of your very kind notes no the passing of Jeremy’s grandma. xxoo

    Okay everyone, repeat after me: NO MORE MA PU TOFU FROM THE BOX :) Seriously, it’s so easy to do yourself that I encourage you all to try your own. I promise you’ll love it – right Alice? ;)

    Ronine – so true! Thank you xoxo

    Bridget – thanks :)

    Charr – probably would work. I’d sub the same amount. You can always taste it and add more if you feel it is needed.

    alexis – it will keep for about a week in the refrigerator.

    Karina Wang – I don’t have one posted, but my version of chicken broth is pretty basic. Chicken bones or carcass or a whole chicken – cover in water, bring to boil, reduce to simmer and let simmer for 3-4 hours. I don’t like to add anything to it because a lot of Chinese cooking tastes funny with “flavored” chicken broth.

    Hannah – I think you could probably skip the pork and it would still be fine.

  38. Lunch + Dinner Yesterday « Daydream Factory says:

    […] Here is the recipe I used (with better pictures!). […]

  39. Mikka says:

    I just made this for the first time and it was delicious. Thank you for sharing the recipe and for writing such a wonderful blog.

  40. art and lemons says:

    She sounds like one lovely lady, I’m deeply sorry for your loss!

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  43. Greenleaf says:

    I just tried out your recipe. YUMMERS! Good stuff! Thanks for posting it!

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