Monday, January 15, 2007

Thinking of Mao Po Tofu, For Dan

For Dan, who Loves Lao Sze Chuan even More Than I Do

Szechwan peppercorns.jpg My roomie Liz's pal Joselyn gave us a ziplock full of Szechwan peppercorns (also known as prickly ash, she said). This was the overflow of a bag twice larger that she picked up in Chinatown Square. Just lick one, and then spit it out, she instructed in the spirit of the fourth grade teacher she is. Don't eat the whole thing, she warned. I licked it, but I didn't feel anything - perhaps it was the nightcap I'd just had - so I bit in and chewed. A few seconds later, my mouth wasn't burning. It felt like the pepper was opening all of the pores on my tongue in the most amazing way. My mouth seemed to water uncontrollably and my facial expressions went wild.

Influence of Mao Po Tofu.jpgImmediately, I thought of Lao Sze Chuan's amazing bowl of Mao Po Tofu - a flavor explosion in the mouth. My pal Dan and I have been going mad over it ever since Lao Sze Chuan became a donor and a stop on our second Veggie Bike and Dine. I claim no knowledge of authentic Chinese cooking, let alone Szechuan style, or even to have ever seen a Mao Po Tofu recipe or overheard an ingredient from one; but I was still inspired and feeling a bit restless in the kitchen, so I went to work. I blended ten of the peppercorns with copious amounts of olive and peanut oils, a little spoon of miso, soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, garlic, a pinch of sugar and a bit of water. After sautéing sliced onions and mushrooms, I added cubed firm tofu and the blended mixture, brought it to simmer, covered it, and let it go on low for ten minutes. It was savory, but not much like the mao po tofu I remember.

I'm once again inspired to research into the land of authenticity to discover perfectly developed recipes. Joselyn told me that the Szechuan peppercorns are friends with string beans, caramelized with sugar cooked in a pan unflipped, and that they also like to be ground and put into bread. I see more adventures ahead.

Thanks, Dan and Joselyn!

XO,
Chris

Photos: Chris B.

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