I have to admit that I am very lucky that Alex will eat just about anything that I throw at him. Not many people I know would be excited by the idea of tofu. But Alex loves just about any authentic Chinese dish that I make at home or order in a restaurant (although I'm sure there would be some exceptions if we ever actually make it to China). This tofu dish was no exception. After a series of fairly heavy, meaty meals I really wanted something vegetarian for dinner. This was what I picked. Well, this with some Sichuan Cucumbers and some white rice. I'm always saying that we need to use our Fuchsia Dunlop cookbooks more than we do, and when I have the chance to do so I tend to take advantage. By some random chance we had everything we needed for this recipe in our apartment. That almost never happens without some degree of advance planning on my part. Even with some advance planning on my part we are often missing at least one or two key ingredients for any given dish. So it was pleasantly surprising that we had everything we needed here. I briefly considered doing a little victory dance, but decided against it.
Alex said that this dish was his favorite of the proteins that we have made over the Thanksgiving holiday. I was kind of shocked. It's tofu and it was competing against a very nice rainbow trout, as well as a lovely lamb chop. But Alex really enjoyed it. And I did too. It was wonderfully flavorful and fairly easy to prepare. The description of the dish as "homestyle" is well-deserved. It tastes like something my grandmother would whip up (supposing that she were still alive and she was actually Sichuanese, rather than Cantonese - details, details). It's not fancy. It's the type of dish, and combined with the cucumbers and the rice, the type of meal that I expect thousands of people in China eat at home regularly. And that is huge praise.
Recipe after the jump!
Homestyle Bean Curd
Land of Plenty: Authentic Sichuan Recipes Personally Gathered in the Chinese Province of Sichuan
By Fuchsia Dunlop
1 block of tofu/bean curd (about 1 lb.)
peanut oil, for deep-frying
2 tbsp chili bean paste
3 cloves garlic, sliced, plus an equivalent amount of fresh ginger, sliced
1 baby leeks, or scallions, white and green parts, sliced diagonally into "horse ears"
1 1/3 cup chicken stock
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2-1 tsp light soy sauce
3/4 tsp cornstarch, mixed with 1 1/2 tsp cold water
Cut bean curd into square slices 2-inches long and about 1/2-inch thick.
Heat oil for deep-frying to a very high temperature.
Add the bean curd slices in batches of 7-8, and deep-fry for a few minutes until puffy and golden (they should still be white and juicy inside). Drain well and set aside.
Season the wok and then heat 2 tbsp of oil over moderate heat. Add chili bean paste and stir-fry until the oil is red and richly fragrant. Add garlic and ginger and fry until they, too, are cooked and fragrant. Add stock and bean curd and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down slightly, season with sugar and soy sauce to taste, and simmer for 3-4 minutes until the liquid is reduced and the bean curd has absorbed some of the flavors of the sauce. Add the leeks or scallions and stir briefly until just cooked. Finally, scatter the cornstarch mixture into the center of the wok, stir until the sauce thickens, and turn out onto a serving plate.