Mapo Tofu

Mapo Tofu Pheonix Claws and Jade Trees

What is it about food that brings together family and friends? The older I get the more I realize just how much relationships and food go hand-in-hand. Currently, my social gatherings are more centered around food than ever before. I honestly cannot think of an occasion with friends and family that food has not played a pivotal role in our gathering!

From my best friends and I bonding over brunch, my uncle teaching me to filet a fish and even something as simple as my family having me over to share a Sunday meal, the ties between friends, food and family is strong.

Because of this connection, I was extra thrilled receive a request from Author Kian Lam Kho to partake in the Mid-Autumn Festival Blog Feast, an online celebration in honour of China’s Mid-Autumn Festival. The Mid-Autumn Festival is one of China’s most recognized celebrations. Falling this year on September 15th, the Mid-Autumn Festival is an occasion for the people to gather and give thanks for the harvest and celebrate it’s bounty together. Another gathering centered around food!

As part of this celebration, I was asked to choose a recipe from Kian Lam Kho’s Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees that I would replicate and serve to family as part of this Mid-Autumn Festival blog feast. What a task that was! The recipes in Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees are beautiful, inspiring and tantalizing. After narrowing down to a few recipes from well known General Tso’s Chicken to delicious sounding Red Cooked Pork, I settled on the recipe for Mapo Tofu. (Want to win a copy? Scroll down to see how!)

Pheonix Claws and Jade Trees Book

Mapo Tofu  was a dish that was new to me, but I was drawn to it for a curious reason. You see, my husband and I have a pair of close friends that recently embarked on a journey of a lifetime. They packed-up and, together, headed-on to a new life in China. The pair are settling in Chengdu, specifically.  When deciding on the dishes, I noticed that Mapo Tofu is a regional dish of the Sichuan Province, which Chengdu is the capital of. This was the perfect way to involve our friends, although thousands of miles away, in our Mid-Autumn Festival Feast!

Mapo Tofu is a spicy dish that, luckily for me, is perfect for those on a budget! Featuring tofu and only a quarter pound of ground beef, this dish packs a frugal, flavourful and protein packed punch. Say that five times fast.

Mapo Tofu in Bowl from Pheonix Claws and Jade Trees

My barrier to entry for this dish, however, was the specialty Chinese ingredients. Feeling a bit defeated after not being able to source some of the spices and bean paste at my normal  local grocer, I nearly called it quits. Yep. I nearly gave-up on this dish. Thankfully, I didn’t!

I owe the success to the dish all to my wonderfully selfless brother-in-law. He was not only confident that I could find the ingredients, but he drove me to a Chinese grocery store on the other side of town and helped me navigate the aisles of unfamiliar ingredients. How fitting that family saved my little Mid-Autumn Festival celebration!

The result? A spicy, deep and distinct dish that is sure to be in the regular rotation from now on. I mean, look at the deep colouring of the red chile bean paste oil sauce!

Mapo Tofu in Wok from Pheonix Claws and Jade Trees

Beyond great recipes, Kho gives a great overview of how to start an authentic Chinese pantry and which tools you will need to truly replicate an authentic Chinese dish.  Now that I have invested in some pantry staples and invested in a good wok (following Kho’s advice, of course), I am eager to cook my way through Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees and expand my knowledge about Chinese cuisine.  Only one recipe in, I already feel confident in producing  high-quality and authentic Chinese dishes. And guess what? That could be you, too!  Just pick this baby up and you (and your friends and family) will be pleased you did!

Mapo Tofu from Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees

Please note that I received a copy of Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees for no charge from Clarkson Potter Publishers in exchange for a review. These thoughts and opinions are my own and genuine.

Want to win a copy of Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees and start exploring the food and technique of authentic Chinese cuisine? Simply comment down below before October 2, 2016, mentioning your favourite Chinese dish or cooking method and be entered in to a draw! Winner will be selected, at random, on October 3, 2016 and contacted via e-mail. This draw is only open to Canadian residents.

Mapo Tofu
Copied, with permission from Kian Lam Kho and Clarkson Potter from Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees


  • 1 pound firm tofu, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil*
  • 4 ounces (1/4 pound) ground beef

Chile bean paste oil:

  • 1/4 cup canola oil*
  • 1 tablespoon minced scallion whites
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese red chile powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn powder
  • 2 tablespoons Sichuan chile bean paste
  • 1 tablespoon fermented black beans, coarsely chopped


  • 3/4 cup chicken stock, or water
  • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing cooking wine
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons tapioca starch
  • 2 Chinese leeks, cut crosswise on the diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick slices


  1. Put the tofu in a medium saucepan and add 5 cups water and the salt.  Bring the water to a boil and then cook gently over medium heat for 5 minutes, until the tofu is soft.  Turn the heat off and let the tofu sit in the water.
  2. Heat a wok over high heat until a droplet of water sizzles and evaporates immediately upon contact. Swirl the oil around the bottom and sides of the wok to coat it evenly. Add the ground beef to the wok and stir-fry for 3 minutes or until the beef has browned slightly. Remove the beef from the wok and transfer it to a bowl.
  3. To make the chile bean paste oil, heat the oil in the wok over medium heat until it is just starting to simmer, about 350F.  Add the scallion whites and ginger to the wok and stir-fry for about 30 seconds.  Add the chile powder and Sichuan peppercorn powder and stir-fry for about 30 seconds or until the oil has turned red.  Add the chile bean paste and fermented black beans and stir-fry for another 30 seconds.
  4. Drain the tofu and add it to the wok. Return the cooked ground beef to the wok.  Stir in all the sauce ingredients. Cover the wok and simmer over medium heat for about 3 minutes, until the tofu has absorbed the flavours.
  5. In a small bowl, ix the tapioca starch with 2 tablespoons water to make a slurry.  Stir it into the broth and cook until the broth has thickened, for about 1 minute.  Add the leek slices and simmer for 30 seconds, until they just turn bright green.

*please note the original recipe calls for vegetable oil but I substituted for canola

Serves 2 or more, paired with a vegetable dish.

Mapo Tofu


Want to win a copy of Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees and start exploring the food and technique of authentic Chinese cuisine? Simply comment down below before October 2, 2016, mentioning your favourite Chinese dish or cooking method and be entered in to a draw! Winner will be selected, at random, on October 3, 2016 and contacted via e-mail. This draw is only open to Canadian residents.


  1. Lynne Robson

    Looks awesome…

    I certainly miss TnT in BC since we moved back to Winnipeg…but I make due with Lucky’s and a couple other places I have sourced out…

    I am a sweet, sour spicy kinda gal…so a good stir fry with a sweet spicy sauce is right up my ally…and add in some chicken and rice…I am good to go…

    • PeppersPennies

      Lucky’s is good but I went to Sun Wah’s Supermarket at 303 King. Super well laid-out and friendly staff! Free parking too, which is great in that area of town! Thanks for stopping-by, Lynne 🙂

  2. I loved hearing that you felt a similar confidence working with the recipe. I was quite shocked by ease! Also invested in a wok, my husband and I ventured off to our local Chinese market for the first time to purchase the wok and stock up on panty staples. Feeling like the menu for our usual Chinese take away may get pushed to the back of the draw 🙂

    • PeppersPennies

      Right? Plus it was so very satisfying to stir-fry something properly! I love learning the back story on dishes too, and PCJT sets-up each dish and goes into the history of the region. Love it!

  3. I’ve made several recipes from Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees (all amazing!) and had the pleasure of having the delightful author, Kian Lam Kho at an event in my cookbook store this June. There are so many reasons this book won the Julia Child First Cookbook Award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals: it’s well-written, authentic, totally accessible to home cooks, has delicious recipes (a lot of which are much simpler than the tofu one you chose that I haven’t tried yet, but will now!) and beautifully photographed.

    Please don’t include me in your giveaway draw, Clarkson Potter did not give me the book and my comments are genuine, but someone who doesn’t already have the pleasure of owning Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees should be given the opportunity to also enjoy it.

    • PeppersPennies

      Hi Kathy,
      Thank you so very much for stopping by! This is a lovely gem of a book and I am so pleased to share it with my readers. I highly recommend you try Kian Lam Kho’s Mapo Tofu. It was such a treat to make. I agree that there are varying degrees of complexity in his dishes, and I love how you can either challenge yourself or create a dish with relative ease.

  4. I love cooking stir fries in a wok! The size makes it easy to ensure everything is well coated with sauce and there’s enough room to cook all my vegetables properly!

    My favourite chinese dish is dan dan noodles! So delicious!

  5. BEAUTIFUL work Amanda. I’m so excited to see you cooking authentic Chinese food! I know it can be daunting to find those Chinese pantry staples, but once you do (and hooray for your brother-in-law), meals like this become sooooo easy. I like to make mapo tofu with pork, but regardless I love how little meat you have to use. It certainly makes it frugal, yet very delicious!

    The book is phenomenal, and I’ve got my fingers crossed on the giveaway! As for techniques that I love to use, I’m a BIG fan of proper, ultra-high-heat stir frying. It is tricky to get it right, and it takes time to get used to the fact that you WILL produce smoke, but the results are so incredible.

    Great job, and great food!

    • PeppersPennies

      Thanks Sean! I am excited to see where this new-found confidence takes me. I mean, I can make a strong and smooth curry like no ones business and have a few paneer dishes under my sleeve but authentic Chinese was always a style that I stayed away from!

  6. This looks delicious..I love the fact that the recipe is not only tofu also uses other proteins(ground beef). A great example that tofu is not just a vegetarian only dish/ingredient.!

  7. I’m working on my post too. I’m really impressed with the book, how easy it is to follow but still really ‘in depth’ for the seasoned Chinese chefs.
    Speaking of seasoning…I bought a wok too, lol. Attempting to season it right now…

  8. This looks absolutely delicious. (And your photos are gorgeous). Love that there is tofu and meat in the same dish, a surprising combo, but makes so much sense for this dish. Like you, authentic Chinese cooking is one area I haven’t done a lot of exploring. I did make some pot-sticker dumplings that were partly fried, then steamed, from “land of plenty” by Fushia Dunlop. They turned out delicious, but not pretty enough for a photo. You have inspired me to try again. I would love a copy of Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees, & if I don’t win the giveaway, I plan to get one anyway. 🙂

    • PeppersPennies

      Thanks for the kind words, Colleen! I highly recommend you get the book if you are not one of my lucky readers. I particularly felt the section on how to build a proper Pantry for Chinese cooking helpful. I think when I get more comfortable I will be able to use these ingredients and new, proper techniques to come up with my own spin!

  9. A beautiful and delicious recreation, Amanda! It looks like a great book, as well. I know I could certainly use a resource to sharpen my authentic Chinese cooking skills. I have a step brother and step sister that are half Chinese so I’ve learned a (very) little bit through osmosis and find their cultural dishes fascinating! Personally, I’m a huge sucker for Dim Sum. Thanks for introducing us to Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees — it looks fab!

  10. I’ll have to try out the recipe on a friend of mine. He taught in China for several years. Knows the genuine article

    • PeppersPennies

      Hi Donald, thanks for stopping-by (again!)please do share the recipe and let me know! I have friends currently in Chengdu and they are loving how spicy all the food is! I imagine that this would be a similar dish to what they are experiencing in their travels.

  11. Do you think the recipe would still turn out well with soft or silken tofu?

    • PeppersPennies

      Hi Lauren! Thanks SO much for checking out the blog! I looked into it, as I am fairly new to cooking with tofu, and it looks like the softer and silken tofu varieties do not hold-up to the roughness of a proper sty-fry technique and will crumble in the wok. Stick with a firmer choice and you will be happy!

  12. This is such a lovely story (and recipe!). I’ve seen quite a few recipes from fellow FBC bloggers from this cookbook and it looks like a keeper. Plus, budget dinners are always great. 🙂

    • PeppersPennies

      Thanks for coming by, Cassie! This is such a frugal and budget-wise dish! Three adults had it for dinner and we all had leftovers for lunch, too! Fingers crossed you are the lucky reader 😉

  13. This recipe just might get me into our local Chinese grocery store…it has always seemed a bit daunting to navigate. Would love to have this cookbook.

    • PeppersPennies

      Hi Shelagh! Thanks for checking-out the blog! I am excited that this post has inspired you to try a different type of cuisine. Best of luck to you for the draw!

  14. I’ve never cooked an authentic Chinese dish but my favourite thing to order at a restaurant is anything with black bean sauce!

    • PeppersPennies

      It’s really yummy! I also now have enough of the bean sauce ingredients like fermented black beans and chile bean paste to last a lifetime. I’d be happy to share!

  15. I’d love to win this book. Steamed meaty dumplings are one of my favourite dishes

  16. Jennifer Essad

    I’ve alway loved Lemon Chicken, when I make it at home I use a cast iron skillet to fry the battered chicken & a wok for stir frying the veggies

  17. I’m loving this book right now! I grabbed a copy from the library last week and really appreciate the educational approach for someone (like me) that has no experience with traditional Chinese cooking. I’m really excited to discover the new ingredients and work my way through a few recipes over the next few weeks (I’m still afraid of the wok, but hopefully I can get over that). Thanks for sharing this beautiful recipe and I’d love to win a copy of the book… the 3 week loan from the library won’t be nearly enough.

    • PeppersPennies

      Thanks for visiting, Sofia! I agree that three weeks with this book would not be enough! It is rich with information and beautiful pictures, you really want to immerse yourself in it and come back to it time and time again. Best of luck in the draw!

  18. I love all kinds of Chinese food! My favorite is vegetable lo-mein 🙂

  19. My favorite to eat are dumplings of almost any sort. Red-cooking might be my favorite technique because dishes can be made ahead and never fail to impress.

    • PeppersPennies

      Hi Heather, Thanks for coming-by! I almost made the red cooked pork belly in the book, I think I will have to get around to it sooner or later! Good luck in the draw 🙂

  20. My favourite Chinese dish is lobster with green onion and ginger!

  21. I really love so many dishes but the one of the few I make at home is stir fried tofu with green onions. So simple but so satisfying. I would love to try out the dish you made.

    Thanks for the chance.

    • PeppersPennies

      Thanks for the comment, Carol! I agree that a stir fry featuring tofu and a bit of onions is a sure way to get me to the dinner table quickly! Good luck in the draw!

  22. The dish looks delicious. I don’t think I’ve ever seen tofu look so appetizing. I just want to taste what’s in the bowl! Even just a teaspoon of the sauce. Good on you for not giving up on finding the ingredients needed. I’m contemplating keeping my wok.

    • PeppersPennies

      Hi Rhonda, thank you for your kind words! I suggest you DO keep the wok and have fun experimenting with different flavours and foods. Best of luck in the draw!

  23. Chinese beef & broccoli with garlic and ginger is my fave.

  24. Pingback: In honour of the Chinese mid-autumn festival – Soy for LifeSoy for Life

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