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When I was living in Taipei about 25 years ago, my landlord was kind enough to walk me through his recipe for Ma Po Dofu (known among other names as Stinky Tofu, because of the unmistakable  pungency  of fermented black beans.  They’re like micro- truffles).

I always order this dish in restaurants when it is available anywhere in the country, but I have never had the courage to try and prepare  it myself.  I always thought it was complicated, and it’s not.

I made MaPoDofu today for the first time in my home-wok and it was almost as good as my landlord’s version, cooked on a hot-plate in the northern suburbs of Taipei City.  Shih Lin District, Section 6.  It’s a rich dish, with lots of fire.  You’re going to be using Szechuan peppercorns, and they are no joke.  They also define the dish, if it’s an authentic recipe.  You have to roast them and then grind them – and the amazing thing is they retain their flintiness, as well as the heat.  Also, find DaBanJyaon (a bean and chili paste, spelled in a few highly confusing variations), and some hot chili oil.

I referred to two fine recipes online to cook this dish to the best of my memory-, and consulted a couple of good Chinese cookbooks.  One version included fresh ginger, and the other didn’t.  I include ginger in my version.

20 oz silken tofu

1/4 # ground pork

3 T Spicy bean paste (Toban Djan, see above)

2 T ground chili (I used 1/2 ancho and 1/2 Hungarian Paprika)

2 T cooking oil

3 T chili oil

1 T Szechuan peppercorns (roasted and ground)

1 T soy sauce

1 tsp fermented black beans (rinsed and pounded)

2 stalks of leeks/scallions for garnish- cut them at a sharp fine angle

2 cloves minced garlic

an equal amount of minced ginger, and 1/2 cup of water.

I cut my tofu into cubes, about 3/4″, and set them in a sieve to rest and become firmer.  Meanwhile, heat the cooking oil and chili oil over medium heat, adding the garlic, pork, spicy bean paste stirring well with a good, metal wok-spatula (this  tool makes your job as a cook much easier).  If you’re using a skillet or a deep skillet instead of a wok, a regular spatula or metal spoon may work equally well.

Now add in your ground chili (something from a good Asian market is better than my short cut, but I think I was still coloring inside the lines), the soy sauce, and your black bean paste.  Now you have something special.

Add the dofu and water, incorporating everything carefully into the stew,  decreasing the heat and simmering no longer than 5 minutes more.  Serve this with steamed white rice.  This dish helps define an entire province in China, as a minor player on a much larger stage.

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A few more cookbooks from my bookshelves 🙂

Native

Hopi Cookery, by Juanita Tiger Kavena. ‘A compendium of more than 100 authentic recipes of the peace-loving Hopis’ says the book cover.  Recipes include Pinto Beans with Watermelon Seeds, Blue Corn Dumplings-and Piki-, the famous tissue-thin cornbread of the Hopiit.

Colonial

Old New Orleans Cooking (I’m researching the identity of the author)- This modest 60 page volume from the first half of the 1900s contains ‘hundreds of secret recipes that helped this historic city to establish its fame.  I received a photo-copy of the fragile volume in 16 double-sided pages.  From Jambalaya and Crayfish Bisque, to 3 kinds of Pralines, you had better believe this is authentic, old-school N’awlins cooking.

Groundbreaking publications (19/20Centuries)

Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt-Book (1846), Catharine E. Beecher.  By an American writer, suffragist,  anti-slavery activist, proponent of Kindergarten education and a member of one of the most prominent families of the era.  An authoritative volume of early American cookery, with no index or illustrations.

Classic American

Farm Journal’s Country Cookbook (Revised, Enlarged Edition), by the Food Editors of the Farm Journal, ed. Nell B. Nichols.  When you think about old-fashion American country food, this is one of the sources you would be well-advised to seek.  It can often be found in a good used-bookstore for a pittance, and it will turn out a rich selection of history and know-how.

Comprehensive Cuisine

The Jewish-American Kitchen, Raymond Sokolov.  I have pored over this beautiful and interesting recipe book- and I have referred to it elsewhere on this blog- namely when I overcame my fear of making Chopped Liver.  It is almost a coffee table book, with big, beautiful photos, clear writing, and amusing style.

Vegetarian

the vegetarian epicure, by anna thomas.  The title and author may appear in modest, lower-case letters, but this is a collection of 262 recipes that made itself known in CAPITAL LETTERS, since it appeared in the early 1970s.   It’s smart, sophisticated, down-home and international all at the same time.

Baking

World Sourdoughs from Antiquity, by Ed Wood.  This is  a history of cuisine and an actual cookbook.  Lots of amazing recipes, as well as a culinary reconstruction of  both ancient and early modern bread making techniques.

World Food

The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook, Gloria Bley Miller.  Craig Claiborne, a famed restaurant critic and gastronomic writer for the New York Times, said of this book, “A labor of Love…Should be treasured by anyone with a serious interest in the Chinese cuisine.”  He’s right.  True Bird’s Nest Soup?  Ten Precious Rice?  Braised Porkballs & Lilly Buds?  It’s all here.  I used to live in China for a half-year, and I did manage to learn some cooking techniques and recipes- but that was merely scratching the surface.

Reference

Wild Plant Family Cookbook, by Particia K. Armstrong.   This book seems to be 1/2 reference, 1/2 actual cookbook; and it is a staggering achievement.  It features and highlights wild foods from the Midwest of the United States- foods that have been consumed here by Native Peoples for thousands of years before colonization.

Desserts

Biscuits & Slices; and a bonus volume:  The Big Book of Beautiful Biscuits, from the Australian Women’s Weekly Home Library.  These large sturdy paperback editions reflect an aspect of- and love for sweets that are unique to English sensibilities- these cookies and bars are appropriate for High Tea, after-school and midnight snacks.  Some metric measurements (see below).

Food Writers

Kitchen Confidential, Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, Anthony Bourdain.  This book became a literal and literary overnight sensation.  And anyone who has watched Chef Bourdain’s TV series (No Reservations) will see that this nearly world-weary, brilliant funny foodie is a formidable figure in world food consciousness. 

Quirks

Metric Cooking for Beginners, Binevera Barta.  Liters, mL, grams, kilograms and Celsius in your recipes bumming you out?  I found this instruction guide-cum-recipe manual from the 1970s  for a dollar at a used bookstore.  I do have a combination kitchen weight scale that I use, and some of my measuring implements also show metric gradations.  If you use international recipe sources at all, some are strictly metric.  You can always get yourself a metric calculator too- that might actually be easier, but it can set you back US$40 (cf http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000FONJN6?ie=UTF8&tag=sciencemadesimpl&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B000FONJN6 )

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