Sichuan Mapo Tofu

Chinese Vegetarian Recipes with tofu

Vegan-mapo-tofu-fake-meatWhile cleaning my office last week, I came across a Chinese vegetarian cookbook that employed tofu skin and shiitake mushroom to mimic the ground meat in mapo tofu. It didn’t sound quite like what I was looking for in a fake ground meat, but it did trigger this idea: Freeze, thaw, then crumble up some tofu!

I'd frozed leftover tofu before I headed to Asia in December so there was a stash to experiment with. After I combined it it with a little shiitake mushroom and dark soy sauce, I had a pretty good facsimile of ground meat.

Freeze slabs of tofu then thaw as needed.

In the wok, this mixture darkens to look like ground beef.

Vegan-mapo-tofuThe recipe below arose from a couple of rounds of tinkering in the kitchen. It visually and texturally looks like mapo tofu. Flavorwise, it has umami oomp from soy sauce as well as fermented bean sauce. My husband, who adores the classic version with ground beef, approved with a political joke: “Send this to Bill Clinton!” (My husband teaches political science and Clinton turn vegan a while ago.) We ate more than half of this batch below for dinner and then he took leftovers for lunch.

How does vegan mapo tofu differ from the regular mapo tofu? There are subtle differences between the vegan mapo tofu approach and the traditional version that’s in the Asian Tofu cookbook. Doing a clear straight sub for the beef or pork didn't work. I made subtle tweaks because the thawed tofu absorbs and reflects back the seasonings much more strongly than the beef.

P.S. If you can't get the Pixian chile bean sauce, add a quarter or half teaspoon of chile flakes to the wok for heat. My frozen tofu was from Whole Foods. The cubed tofu was Trader Joe's regular tofu.


Vegan Mapo Tofu

Yields: 4 servings


  • 3 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 5 to 6 ounces (150 to 180 g) frozen extra-firm tofu
  • 3/4 teaspoon dark soy sauce
  • 16 ounces (450 g) medium or medium-firm tofu
  • 1 rounded teaspoon minced ginger
  • About 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon regular soy sauce
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch diluted in 2 to 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 or 2 large green onions, green and white parts, cut on the diagonal
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